Can a Child Be Slightly Autistic?

A child could have mild symptoms of autism, but parents and guardians should still take proactive steps to seek a diagnosis. 

When a child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), caregivers can work with professionals to develop appropriate strategies in response. These strategies help children thrive in their environment through appropriate accommodations, therapy, and parent training. 

While some children with autism may rarely encounter challenges related to their disorder, others may find that negative experiences increase as they get older. This can lead to unwanted stress, potentially up to the point of a crisis event. In extreme cases, a  child could lose opportunities to advance in school or other life areas.

Understanding a child’s needs is important. Individuals in their life should never brush away observations that a  child might have a behavior disorder. Instead, they can educate themselves on the signs of ASD and look into the next best actions to take.

Being "On the Spectrum" Can Mean a Wide Variety of Experiences

Autism is described as a spectrum of disorders for a reason. Signs of autism can present differently. 

Some individuals will have significant behavior and communication challenges that make the possibility of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis more likely. 

In other cases, caregivers may notice occasional “atypical” behaviors but that don't immediately cause them to seek a full behavioral health evaluation. 

In the latter scenario, a  child may never have their autism diagnosed or addressed therapeutically. It's possible that mildly-expressed forms of ASD behavior go completely unnoticed. 

But another possibility is that an  undiagnosed child or their caregiver will feel frustrated by a lack of explanation for certain behavioral events. They may struggle with socialization, for instance, or they may lack commitment to extracurricular activities.

Ignoring the possibility of an autism diagnosis, especially if a  child seems mostly neurotypical, can make it more difficult for them  to adjust and  have their needs met. For this reason, teachers and caregivers who observe subtle signs of ASD should speak with a mental health professional. 

A child's parents, teachers, and others with a direct role in their life are the best observers when it comes to picking up on a possible autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Only a licensed mental health professional can come to a full, accurate diagnosis, but you don't have to be a professional to suspect that an ASD diagnosis is possible.

What Are Some Possible Signs of Mild Autism?

ASD encompasses a broad range of behavioral patterns and experiences.

Inconsistency from one ASD case to the next can make it more difficult for caregivers to fully connect the dots.

Even so, there are many common behaviors that could point to a possible ASD diagnosis. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these may include:

  • Repetitive play or verbal expressiveness (echolalia)
  • A fixation on certain activities, ideas, or concepts
  • A reluctance to engage in new experiences or to disrupt routines
  • Aversion to certain forms of interaction, especially hugging or cuddling
  • Avoiding eye contact and being difficult to engage in conversation
  • Missing verbal or physical cues, such as not looking at where someone is pointing
  • Having difficulty understanding others' feelings or talking about feelings in general
  • Reluctance to socialize or a preference for isolation
  • Trouble expressing their needs or wishes
  • Unexpected reactions to certain sights, sounds, textures, or smells
  • Tantrums or explosive aggression with unexpected triggers

Some children with ASD may appear to have a learning disability or other form of behavior disorder. They may also have co-occurring medical challenges, such as gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, trouble sleeping, or seizures. Many individuals with autism may also have mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or an attention deficit disorder.

It is also possible that any of the above behavior signs could be related to something other than autism, such as if a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This possibility should encourage those in the child's life to seek a diagnostic assessment from a professional who can advise parents and others  how best to address their needs.

Any Form of Autism Can Benefit From a Therapeutic Approach

Unnoticeable signs of autism can be detrimental to a  child's wellbeing when caregivers neglect to investigate further. People with autism can be given strategies and support that can help them work alongside their condition and be successful while still being completely and utterly themselves.

Once you begin talking with professionals about your child's unique situation and any unexpected behaviors or occurrences, you can begin to understand him or her better. With support from clinicians and the community, you can provide conditions and strategies that encourage your child to have a less stressful, more fulfilling life.

If you think your child or a child in your life might have autism, take the first step toward seeing if they need extra care, attention, and support from you. Seek a diagnosis and support from professionals who use an evidence-based approach to achieve goals that help children thrive.

Therapeutic Pathways offers services for families of children with ASD, including assessments post diagnosis for treatment purposes. Contact us today with concerns or for resources to help you determine if your child has ASD and the steps to take after receiving a diagnosis.