May 17, 2023

Identifying early signs of Autism and ADHD

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Identifying early signs of Autism and ADHD

As a parent, it's natural to be concerned about your child's development and wonder if they could be neurodiverse. 

However, it is critical to remember that every child is one of a kind and advances at their own pace. Therefore, comparing your child to others should be avoided. 

A diagnosis of autism can occur at an early age. Still, the average age of diagnosis in the UK is five years old. Because of children's fluctuating capabilities, health professionals rarely diagnose autism before age two.


Here are a few signs of autism and ADHD in children below five years old that could signal warning signs. 


Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers include:

  • Not meeting developmental milestones for language and social skills.

  • Not interacting with others.

  • Having repetitive or rigid behaviours such as repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body.

  • Not responding to their name.

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Not smiling when you smile at them.

  • Getting very upset if they do not like a particular taste, smell or sound

  • Get very upset when there are changes in their routine.

  • Not engaging in pretend play.

Autism in older children

Signs of autism in older children include:

  • Not being able to understand what others are thinking or feeling.

  • Use unusual speech, such as repeating phrases and talking 'at' others instead of with them.

  • Liking a strict daily routine and getting very upset if it changes

  • Having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities

  • Getting very upset if you ask them to do something

  • Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own

  • Taking things very literally – for example, they may not understand phrases like "break a leg."

  • Finding it hard to say how they feel

Just one of the signs commonly associated with autism does not necessarily confirm the diagnosis. Generally, the diagnosis of autism is only confirmed when the child displays more of these typical characteristics.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms in children tend to appear before age 6. They are usually exhibited in various environments, such as the home, nursery or school. 

Symptoms may involve a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, or children may exhibit signs of just one type of behaviour.

Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)

The main signs of inattentiveness are:

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted

  • making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork

  • appearing forgetful or losing things

  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming

  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions

  • constantly changing activity or task

  • having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:

  • Being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings

  • Constantly fidgeting

  • Being unable to concentrate on tasks

  • Excessive physical movement

  • Excessive talking

  • Being unable to wait their turn

  • Acting without thinking

  • Constantly interrupting conversations

  • Little or no sense of danger

During the developmental years, children can sometimes display periods of restlessness or difficulty focusing; however, this does not necessarily mean they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Such episodes are typically natural and pass with time.

You know your child best, so trust your instincts. 

If you are concerned about your child, it is best to get help immediately since intervening early can help ensure they get the required assistance.

How can I get support?

You could speak to:

  • Your GP

  • Your health visitor (for children under 5)

  • any other health professional you or your child see, such as another doctor or therapist.

  • If your little one attends an educational setting, speak to their keyworker, who will share your concerns with the setting SENCO (special educational needs coordinator.

  • If your concerns still need to be met, talk directly to the SENCO and ask them to observe your little one.

Before talking to a professional

Before contacting a health professional, gather as much relevant information as possible. Doing so will let them grasp your worries more quickly and accelerate the diagnosis and support.

  • Write a list of the signs you have noticed your child has and bring it with you. Be clear and as thorough as possible. 

  • Ask other members of the family or people who know your child well (like friends, nanny, teachers, etc.) if they have noticed any possible signs you could put on your list. 

  • Bring a pen and paper so you can take notes.


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