Health Hint! – Early Detection Signs: Autism

Jan 28, 2022

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness.  We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint ‘Early Detection Signs: Autism’, which is the second article in a new series called Early Detection.

This series will highlight some of the early detection signs for many of our 21 illnesses to work towards earlier diagnosis and more favorable treatment outcomes.  We hope you find it helpful.  If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities. 

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects about 1 in 66 children (5-17) according to the NASS 2018 report. 

The severity and symptoms of ASD will look different for every individual, hence the word “Spectrum” is used to define the disorder. Autistic individuals require extra support in developing their social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive skills. They express themselves as independent, having a lack of interest in social situations, and lacking necessary communication skills. In a way, they seem to be in their “own world”. Commonly seen behaviors include

  • Repeating words/phrases over and over
  • Have trouble relating to others or understanding others
  • Avoid eye contact and prefer independence

The causes of ASD are not yet known, though according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Genetics, certain prescription drugs taken during pregnancy, and environmental factors could play a role in developing ASD.

ASD is a life-long disorder, meaning that it will affect the individual for the rest of their life. Fortunately, Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months old, therefore getting the medical attention they need as soon as possible.

What should you look out for?

Early signs and symptoms are identifiable by the age of 2. You can pay attention to developmental characteristics, social behaviors, communicative abilities, and any restrictive or repetitive behaviors. Noting down identifiable symptoms right from childhood can help in diagnosing and treating the child once you have contacted your healthcare professional.

Autism Speaks provides a list of common symptoms and characteristics to look out for in children.

Abilities and Developmental Characteristics

  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed movement skills
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Gastrointestinal issues 
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Anxiety, stress, or excessive worry
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected

Social and Interactive Behaviors

  • Uses few or no gestures by 12 months of age (i.e. Does not wave goodbye)
  • Does not share interests with others by 15 months 
  • Does not point or look at what you point to by 18 months of age
  • Does not notice when others are hurt or sad by 24 months of age
  • Does not pretend in play (i.e. does not pretend to “feed” a doll by 30 months of age)
  • Shows little interest in peers
  • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about own feelings at 36 months of age or older
  • Does not play games with turn taking by 60 months of age

Restrictive and Repetitive behaviors

  • Repeats words or phrases over and over 
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Must follow certain routines
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Contacting your Healthcare Provider

As mentioned before, the earliest possible age to get an ASD diagnosis is 18 months. If you feel concerned, or feel that your child may have Autism, you can get a diagnosis through one of these 2 ways.

  1. Reaching out to your healthcare professional (Family doctor, pediatrician, etc). Getting an appointment and/or analysis from a medical professional or specialized physician is one way to screen your child for ASD and monitor child development.
  2. Contacting a local ASD Diagnostic Hub / Assessment center. In Ontario, Autism Diagnostic Hubs have professionals conduct assessments and tests required to diagnose your child with Autism. There are 5 locations in parts of Ontario that offer these services. 

The Ontario Autism Program offers a wide range of support services and resources for all patients on the Autism spectrum. Fun fact! You don’t need a diagnosis from a Diagnostic Hub to register for the Ontario Autism Program.

You can visit the Ministry of Ontario’s Autism Assessment and Diagnosis page to learn more about the Ontario autism Program.

How can Early prevention help? Autism.

By intervening as early as possible, you are helping your child grow and develop with the right guidance and support they need as soon as possible. Early detection allows your child to access services (i.e. speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.) which can later aid your child in reaching their full potential. 

Each treatment plan will look different for every patient because of the intensity and symptoms that vary from individual to individual. Some possible treatment plans include

  • Medication-based treatments
  • Dietary changes
  • Occupational therapy
  • Social skills and communication focused treatments

Federated Health Charities Supports Autism Ontario, an organization that advocates for anyone on the Autism spectrum. They provide resources, insightful information, and guide individuals and their families throughout. They can help guide you through the steps you will want to take if you are seeing early detection signs for autism in a loved one. You can ask questions, reach out to them, or visit their website linked below

We hope you enjoyed our latest Health Hint and stay tuned for more articles in this series.

Written by – Shiyami Selvapavan

Other Useful Resources

Childhood milestones

Ontario Autism Program

Autism in Ontario

For more information, you can visit


(Not including the in-text citations and links)

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For general questions:

Sarah Wood
Executive Director


315 Front St. West, 5th Floor
Toronto, ON
M7A 0B8

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