Does Your Child Have ASD? Learn the Signs and How to Seek Guidance

Are you noticing your child isn’t exactly acting like other children? Maybe their form of play is lining up their toys in a specific way, or they have an extremely specific interest in a thing or subject.

Is your child not speaking yet? Do they not seem interested in a game of peek-a-boo? Does your child prefer not to interact with other children? Some kids like to hang out by themselves and do their own thing, or they may not really know how to interact with other kids and therefore end up playing alone.

Do you suspect your child may have ASD?

Approximately 1-2% of the population of Canada have ASD (autism spectrum disorder), meaning Ontario has approximately 135,000 autistic people, according to data found in the Canadian Medical Association Journal

It does not matter whether they have an official autism diagnosis already or not. Every child is unique in their own individual ways, and they all need love, care, and support. 

If you’ve been wondering if your child has autism, this is where you can start to learn the signs of ASD, and how to seek guidance for best supporting your child. 

What is ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is generally described as a group of complex brain development disorders. Autistics often have issues with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. Autistics may also learn, move, or pay attention differently. Some people who are not autistic may also have some of these traits, but for those who are autistic, these characteristics can make their lives a challenge. 

While ASD is lifelong, the level of impairment in functionality due to these challenges varies between each individual autistic. 

What Autism Isn’t

Autism is NOT: 

  • An illness or a disease
  • Temporary
  • Contagious
  • Caused by vaccinations
  • Caused by parenting styles
  • Going to go away in adulthood

Many autistics prefer terminology such as neurological “difference” or “condition” to remove negative connotations of “disorder,” according to Autism Ontario. Autism means your brain processes information differently than neurotypical (non-autistic) people. You will find autistics across all cultures, ethnicities, races, and gender identities. 

Early Signs of ASD

Early signs of autism appear within ages 0-5, with some children showing many signs, while others only have a few. The number of signs can vary according to age and development stage. 

Early signs of autism can change over time or become clearer as children grow older. 


The earliest signs of autism need to be looked for within a child’s first year, particularly in their social interaction and communication development. 

The following details are developmental social interaction and communication milestones by age, which may be signs of ASD:

  • Doesn’t respond to their name by 9 months.
  • Doesn’t show facial expressions such as happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months. 
  • Doesn’t play interactive simple games, such as patty cake, by 1 year.
  • Doesn’t use gestures like waving goodbye, or only uses a few, by 1 year.
  • Doesn’t show you objects they like, nor share their interests with others, by 1 year 3 months.
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 1 year 5 months. 
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 2 years. 
  • Doesn’t notice other children joining them in play by 3 years. 
  • Doesn’t play pretend, for example like a superhero, by 4 years. 
  • Doesn’t sing, dance, or act for you or others by 5 years.

Other social interaction and communication signs might be:

  • Inconsistently use eye contact to get someone’s attention—for example, they may not always look at you and then at a particular snack to show you it’s something they want, or they won’t look back towards you when they see something they are excited about.
  • Rarely pointing towards or holding up an object to show you things—for example, they may not point to an animal and look back at you to make sure you saw it, or they might drop a toy in your lap and walk away instead of holding it up and looking at you.
  • Consistently not responding to their name being called.
  • Consistently not using gestures on their own—for example, they may not wave goodbye or clap without being asked to, or they might not nod yes or shake no. 
  • Consistently not smiling back at you or other familiar people when smiling at them.
  • Rarely copying the actions of others, like combing their hair when you comb yours. 
  • Not sounding like they are having a conversation with you when they’re babbling, or they may not babble at all. 
  • Difficulty in understanding simple, one-step instructions by 1-2 years—for example, “Show me the cat,” or “Give me the book.”


Repetitive behaviour and special interests:

  • They may have special interests in specific objects or toys—for example, play mostly with specific cars or dolls, or wear a specific shirt or jacket.
  • They may have repetitive behaviour—for example, they may repeatedly push buttons, bang toys together, or open and close drawers over and over.
  • They may interact with toys and objects in unexpected ways—for example, they may line up their toys or other objects or put their toys into piles. 
  • They may be actively interested in specific activities only, and become upset if they are unable to do that activity—for example, watching the same TV show or movie repeatedly.


Autistics prefer familiar routines, and are easily upset by any type of change, especially if it affects the routine. For example, if you visit a grandparent’s house frequently, they will want to follow the exact same route every time you make that visit. 

Repetitive Movements

Autistics may repeat body movements or move their bodies in unanticipated ways, also known as vestibular stimming. They may:

  • Arch their back
  • Flap their hands
  • Stiffly hold their arms
  • Walk on their toes

Sensory Sensitivities (Stimming)

  • They may be sensitive to the environment—for example, they may be easily upset from noise or bright lights than other children, while also preferring to listen to songs on repeat, screech, repeat words or phrases (echolalia), watch neon lights, like glowing objects, and watch the same movies repeatedly. The latter behaviours are commonly known as vocal and auditory stimming and visual stimming.
  • They may prefer their environment to stay the same—for example, they’ll only eat foods with certain textures or colours (known as safe foods), or they’ll want to wear the same clothes each day (certain fabrics or tags may be irritating to them). These sensitivities are known as taste and smell stimming.
  • They may enjoy seeking out specific sensations—for example, they may rub objects on their lips or faces, smell objects, stroke different fabrics and textures, bite their fingernails, play with water, or chew the inside of their cheeks or lips. This is best known as tactile stimming.

Seeking Guidance for ASD

By this point perhaps you’ve noticed your child exhibiting some or several of these signs of ASD. What is the next step? Simple: seek guidance in obtaining help and support systems, and work towards a formal diagnosis for your child. But how does one go about seeking guidance? 

It all starts with learning about autism. The more knowledgeable you are about ASD, the better prepared you are to make informed decisions on your child’s behalf. 

Look for what may trigger challenging or disruptive behaviour, and what stimulates a positive response in your child. What do they find frightful or stressful? What calms them? What makes them uncomfortable? What do they enjoy? If you understand what affects them, you will be better equipped in troubleshooting any issues and preventing or modifying situations where there may be difficulties. 

Knowledge and awareness of autism however can only take you so far. Your autistic child is to be loved and accepted like any other child, quirks and all. It’s about acceptance of who they are, rather than what may be “missing” or how they are different. Celebrate their successes and enjoy their quirks. Giving unconditional love and support is the best kind of support you can give your child. 

When you’re feeling the struggle, keep going. ASD isn’t linear at all; rather it’s best understood like a pie, with every slice representing a separate set of traits. It can be easy to jump to conclusions about what your child’s life is going to be like. However, like everyone else, autistic children have their entire lives to develop their abilities and grow. 

Finding Help and Support

Caring for your neurodivergent child can be demanding, with triple the amount of time and energy needed to keep up. You will have days of extreme overwhelm, stress, and discouragement. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs we will have in our lifetime, and raising a child with autism or similar developmental challenges adds to the difficulty. Ensuring you have self-care routines for yourself is the best thing you can do to be the best parent and advocate for your autistic child. 

One key thing to remember is you don’t have to do everything on your own. There are support systems and groups you can access and contact who specialize in supporting families of children with ASD when they need someone to go to for advice, help, advocacy, and support. 

ASD support groups: There are many in person and online support groups, websites, blogs, and social media pages to learn from individual experiences, share struggles, and meet other families that may share the same challenges as you. You can share information, get advice, and give each other emotional support. Being around other autistic families and sharing experiences helps a lot in reducing the isolation many parents feel after they hear of their child’s diagnosis. 

Respite care: Depending on your needs and what can be offered to you for support in your area, respite care helps give parents a much-needed break. Another caregiver can help care for your child, giving you a break for as little as a few hours and as much as a few weeks. 

Individual, marital, or family counselling: At Hopewoods, we are here for all your support needs. Whether it be individually for yourself or spouse, if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, we can help guide you through it as part of your self-care. If you feel your child could use neurodivergent affirming support, help navigating emotions and how their brain works, child/teens counseling can be beneficial. Marriage or family therapy is a great support in helping to work out issues from pressures and challenges caring for an autistic child can affect in spousal relationships or with other members of the family. Therapy is a safe environment where you can honestly share your thoughts and emotions, good, bad, and ugly. 

Caring for an Autistic Child When You are Autistic

In recent years, research has found that autism has a genetic component, with 50% of genetic probability predicted with a common genetic variation and 15-20% due to spontaneous mutations or predictable patterns in inheritance. 

Many parents only find out about themselves being autistic when researching and obtaining a formal diagnosis for their child. If you are autistic, there are unique challenges you may face when it comes to raising neurodivergent children. 

The supports listed above are for families of all types, not just neurotypical parents raising neurodivergent children. However, it may mean as part of your self-care, finding support for yourself as an autistic can help in your journey as well as your journey in parenting an autistic child. This can mean seeking out some of the same kind of support you may be seeking for your child, listed below.

Types of Support for Autistic Parents

Supports for autism can include:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Training for parents, families, and caregivers
  • Behavioural therapy
  • Education and school planning
  • Medication

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps with teaching or improving everyday life skills, like:

  • Getting dressed
  • Body awareness
  • Independent eating
  • Balance and coordination
  • Navigating common or new situations
  • Fine motor skills, for example using a zipper or scissors.
  • Gross motor skills, for example, walking or kicking a ball.

Occupational therapists collaborate directly with a person in a program customized specifically for individual needs. 

Speech and Language Therapy

Children with autism may communicate verbally or non-verbally. They can benefit from work with a speech therapist on their communication skills.

Personal speech and language therapy programs help to improve verbal and non-verbal communication skills such as:

  • Asking for help
  • Having a conversation
  • Using a speech output device
  • Asking and answering questions
  • Reading books and telling stories

Speech and language therapists also can teach beneficial skills to family members and caregivers. 

Training for Caregivers

Examples of caregivers include:

  • Peers
  • Teachers
  • Parents of guardians
  • Extended family members

Training for caregivers includes:

  • How to effectively communicate
  • How to deal with any self-injuring behaviours safely 
  • How to recognize and provide support in triggering situations
  • Learn supportive routines and behaviours that give comfort and promote success.

Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural therapy is either individual or group led with a therapist, which includes:

  • Learning social skills
  • Recognizing emotions
  • Preparing for school or work
  • Building communication skills
  • Increasing independence in daily routines
  • If present, reducing or eliminating self-injuring behaviours

Education and School Planning

Having an individual education plan can help structure your autistic child’s learning environment to their specific needs. As a team, the student, caregivers, and educators identify those specific needs and create a support plan. 

School support can include social, academic, and behavioural approaches. Individual education plan may look like:

  • Low student-to-teacher ratios (or having a specifically assigned assistant to help your child in class)
  • Supported opportunities to interact with peers (specific special needs classes geared towards and tailored for those with special needs)
  • Occupational, speech and behavioural therapies (as listed above)


Currently Health Canada has not approved any medications for autism. 

Autistics may use medication to treat other conditions or symptoms of other conditions they may have, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Seizure disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Always seek medical advice from your primary care provider before starting any kind of medication. 

Other Support Systems

Autistics may need extra support systems at various times in their lives, especially during times of transition, including:

  • Early childhood
  • Starting elementary and high school
  • Adulthood
  • Seeking employment
  • Living alone or with assistance
  • Older adulthood

Caregivers and other family members can find and obtain supports and services from government and community programs, which include:

  • Financial aid
  • Community involvement
  • Information and support for parents and caregivers
  • Planned or emergency respite care

What to Look for When Searching for Programs and Support Groups

Programs and supports for autistics must:

  • Build upon individual strengths and abilities.
  • Be available in different settings, such as: home, school, community.
  • Bring together different supports that promote independence, skill development, and community involvement.
  • When appropriate, involve family and caregivers.

If you suspect your child is autistic and wish to seek a formal ASD diagnosis, we offer many different assessments, including child/youth autism, as well as psychoeducational, which can help in aiding official autism diagnosis.

Do you have any further questions or concerns regarding ASD in children? If you would like to learn more about assessments, counselling services, or programs we offer including Face Your Fear, Social Scape Explorer, and TheraCamp for Children with ASD, contact us directly today. You can also book a free 30-minute consultation.

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