Parent Press

a Goally Publication



When Not To Worry About Autism: A Parent’s Guide

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My 4-year-old niece loves to build things. She spends hours arranging towers out of blocks, and she gets completely swept away by her imagination. The other day, she kept putting a blue block on top of a red tower, even though it kept falling down. At first, I thought this was a little odd, but then I realized she was probably experimenting to see what would happen. For a minute, I wondered if I should be worried, but then I remembered that all kids develop differently. According to a 2023 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, nearly 40% of children diagnosed with autism at ages 12–36 months are no longer considered autistic by age 7. Of course, some behaviors can signal that a child may benefit from evaluation and intervention, but other times those behaviors are just a kid being a kid. In this post, I’ll unpack when not to worry about autism.

Understanding Typical Development

Kids can be quirky and unique, especially when they’re young. It’s important to remember that just because your little one does something a little differently, it doesn’t mean they have autism.

Hand Flapping and Other Repetitive Behaviors

Kids often engage in repetitive behaviors, like hand flapping, incredibly when excited or overstimulated. This might seem unusual to parents who haven’t seen it before. Still, it’s a familiar and regular part of childhood development. However, these behaviors persist well beyond the toddler years or seem unusually intense. In that case, talking to your child’s doctor might be a good idea.

when not to worry about autism. 2 girls sit on the couch and one girl is whispering a secret to her friend.
Read more: 5 Signs of Autism

Delayed Speech or Motor Milestones

Every child develops at their own pace, and late talkers often catch up quickly. Of course, you have concerns about your child’s development. Regardless of the specific area, it’s always best to consult with your pediatrician. They can help monitor your child’s progress and offer guidance on potential next steps.

Social Skills and Eye Contact in Toddlers

Toddlers are still learning to navigate the world, including social interactions. They might have short attention spans, a strong interest in specific objects, and difficulty making eye contact – this doesn’t necessarily point to autism. However, children with autism may have more persistent challenges with social skills. They may not respond to their name or show interest in other children.

Signs That May Warrant Evaluation

While many signs don’t necessarily mean your child has autism, certain things may be a good reason to talk to your child’s doctor about further evaluation. Let’s look at a few of the more common ones.

  • Lack of Response to Name: When children consistently don’t respond to their name by age 1, this could be a sign for further evaluation.
  • Trouble Understanding or Following Instructions: Difficulty understanding or following simple instructions – especially from familiar people – might be an indicator.
  • Loss of Previously Acquired Skills: Regression of any skill at any age in development is always a reason to discuss what you’re seeing with your pediatrician.
  • Lack of Interest in Others: An ongoing lack of interest in peers can sometimes be a red flag.
  • Difficulty with Changes in Routine: When a child has persistent difficulty tolerating even minimal routine changes, it might be worth seeking professional advice.
when not to worry about autism. A boy happily plays in a field on a sunny day.
Read more: Symptoms of Anxiety in Kids

Here’s a quick table comparing typical developmental differences with potential signs of autism in toddlers:

FeatureTypical DevelopmentPotential Autism Indicators
Social InteractionMay be shy at first but warms up over timeShows little interest in interacting with others
Eye ContactMay avoid eye contact when feeling overwhelmed or shyConsistently avoids eye contact, even with caregivers
CommunicationMay point or gesture to communicate wants and needsDoesn’t point or use gestures, or has lost these skills
InterestsEnjoys a variety of toys and activitiesShows an intense focus on specific objects or activities
Repetitive BehaviorsMay engage in repetitive actions like hand flapping when excitedExhibits repetitive behaviors that are unusually intense or persistent

Important Note: This chart is only intended as a general guide and should not be used for diagnosis. Always consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your child’s development.

Goally | Visual Scheduler for Autism

Does your child struggle with getting ready in the morning independently? Goally’s routine app on the best tablet for kids breaks down large tasks into small, achievable steps for autistic kids. Create custom routines with your own videos & pictures for every step.

I get it – every parent wants the best for their kids, and it can be easy to worry if you notice your child doing anything that seems out of the ordinary. Remember, kids have their own unique personalities and developmental timelines. The key is to trust your instincts – if something seems off, never hesitate to talk to your pediatrician.

Sources for Further Reading:

FAQs About When Not To Worry About Autism

What is neurodiversity, and how does it relate to autism?
Neurodiversity refers to the concept that all brains function uniquely, and it recognizes autism as a natural part of this variation rather than a disorder.
Can unique communication styles be signs of autism?
Unique communication styles can be part of the autism spectrum, but they can also represent the vast diversity of the human brain. 
What should I do to support my neurodivergent child's growth?
Support their interests, provide chances to develop their skills, and celebrate all their achievements, big or small.
How important is having friends who understand my journey with a neurodivergent child?
Having a support network of friends who understand your journey can help you cope with challenges and appreciate your child's unique qualities.
Can visual schedules and emotional regulation apps help my autistic child?
Absolutely! Visual schedules and emotional regulation apps can provide structure and predictability, which many children on the autism spectrum find reassuring.

This post was originally published on 04/17/2023. It was updated on 02/23/2024.

Article by
Goally Logo

We help parents teach their kids life skills, like doing bedtime and morning independently. Backed by science, we incorporate evidence-based practices and expert-informed designs in all of our apps and content.