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Signs of autism in young children may include:

  • not responding to their name
  • having difficulties with eye contact
  • not smiling back when you smile at them
  • getting upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound
  • repetitive behaviours, such as flapping their hands, spinning, flicking their fingers or rocking their body
  • repeating the same phrases

This also applies to the list of signs for older children.

You may not notice the signs when a child is young. You may first notice it when they are older.

Autism in older children

Signs of autism in older children include:

  • not seeming to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • finding it hard to say how they feel
  • liking routine and getting upset if it changes
  • having an intense interest in certain subjects or activities
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own
  • taking things literally - for example, they may not understand phrases such as "raining cats and dogs"
  • being fascinated with symmetry and order
  • being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time
  • being strong visual and auditory learners
  • excelling in maths, science, music, or art

Autism in girls

Autism can sometimes be different in girls and boys.

Autistic girls may:

  • hide some signs of autism by copying how other children behave and play - this is called 'camouflaging' or 'masking'
  • appear to cope better than boys with social situations, but they may be anxious
  • behave one way in school, but have "meltdowns" at home due to social exhaustion

This means autism can be harder to spot in girls.

Getting an autism assessment for your child

Non-urgent advice: If you think your child might be autistic, you could speak to:

You can self-refer to a CDNT

How an assessment can help

Getting assessed can help your child get extra support.

An assessment can help you:

  • understand your child's strengths and differences, and how you can help them
  • support your child to understand their strengths and differences
  • get support for your child at school
  • get other support such as financial benefits for parents and carers

By understanding themselves at an earlier age, autistic people can:

  • feel empowered
  • advocate for themselves
  • start to access supports and services earlier
  • find people with similar experiences

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 30 May 2023
Next review due: 30 May 2026