Things Autistic Toddlers Do: Typical Behaviors

Unlock understanding of things autistic toddlers do, from communication to sensory sensitivities.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
May 30, 2024
Published On
May 30, 2024

Understanding Autism in Toddlers

Gaining an understanding of autism in toddlers can help parents and caregivers better support their development. This includes recognizing the signs of autism and understanding the role of repetitive behaviors in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Signs of Autism in Toddlers

One of the key things autistic toddlers do is display a lack of engagement and interaction compared to other children their age. Parents may notice their toddler's lack of social interaction and reduced interest in engaging with others, which could be one of the signs of autism [1].

Some children with autism may be painfully aware of their social deficits and avoid interactions, while others may seek attention to connect with others until they develop the necessary skills for interaction.

The Role of Repetitive Behaviors

Repetitive behaviors, also known as stereotypic behaviors, are another characteristic that autistic toddlers might display. These behaviors can vary significantly from child to child and can serve as tools for self-calming. These behaviors might include actions like rocking the body or repeatedly opening and closing drawers.

Autistic toddlers might also display fixed interests, which involve having an intense focus on a specific activity, object, or subject. These can range from saying or talking about the same things repeatedly to engaging in physical actions like rocking, flicking, or pacing. In more intense cases, these behaviors can even be violent, such as head-banging [3].

Repetitive Behaviors in Autism Examples
Physical Actions Rocking, flicking, pacing
Fixed Interests Intense focus on a specific activity, object, or subject
Repetitive Speech Repeating words or phrases, talking about the same thing repeatedly

Understanding these behaviors can help parents and caregivers better support their child's development and work towards effective strategies to manage these behaviors. It's important to remember that every child with autism is unique, and their behaviors and interests can change over time.

Communication Challenges and Autism

One of the key aspects to consider when exploring things autistic toddlers do is understanding their communication challenges. These can manifest in many ways, from language development difficulties to unique forms of non-verbal communication.

Language Development in Autistic Toddlers

According to, children on the autism spectrum often show delays in spoken language. They might sit, crawl, and walk on time, but the more subtle differences in the development of gestures, pretend play, and social language can often go unnoticed by families and doctors.

Autistic toddlers may not engage or interact with their parents as much as other children, which could be an early sign of autism. They might also use language in unconventional ways, such as repeating phrases without meaning them literally. For example, they might ask 'Do you want a lolly?' when they want a lolly themselves. This unconventional use of language can make it difficult for others to understand their needs or desires Raising Children Network.

Non-Verbal Communication in Autism

Non-verbal communication is another area where autistic toddlers may display unique behaviors. According to Raising Children Network, autistic toddlers may communicate their needs through behaviors like crying, indicating that verbal communication may be challenging for them. Understanding these non-verbal cues and encouraging communication through gestures or visual aids can be beneficial in supporting their needs.

Some autistic toddlers may also exhibit challenging behaviors such as refusing requests, self-harming, having tantrums, or being aggressive. These behaviors are often linked to their communication difficulties and could be ways of expressing confusion, fear, or unmet needs. Understanding the underlying reasons for these behaviors can aid in effectively supporting and communicating with the child Raising Children Network.

Communication challenges are a significant part of autism, and understanding these can help in providing the necessary support and intervention to autistic toddlers. By recognizing these behaviors and seeking appropriate intervention, parents and caregivers can help their children improve their communication skills and navigate their world more effectively.

Sensory Sensitivities in Autism

An essential aspect of understanding the behaviors of autistic toddlers is recognizing their sensory sensitivities. Over 96% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains, including auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli [4]. These sensitivities are more prevalent in children with ASD than in those with other developmental disabilities and can significantly impact their daily experiences.

Hypersensitivity and Autism

Hypersensitivity, or over-responsiveness, is a common sensory issue among individuals with ASD. Many autistic people experience hypersensitivity to bright lights, certain light wavelengths (e.g., LED or fluorescent lights), sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. This condition can be overwhelming and lead to sensory avoidance behaviors such as pulling away from physical touch, covering ears to avoid loud sounds, or avoiding certain types of clothing.

In extreme cases, hypersensitivity can lead to sensory overload. This occurs when intense sensory stimuli overwhelm the individual's ability to cope, leading to anxiety, a need to escape, difficulty in communication, and shutting off functions like speech and information processing. Sensory overload can be triggered by single events or build up over time due to daily coping with sensory sensitivities.

Hyposensitivity and Autism

Conversely, hyposensitivity, or under-responsiveness, is also common in autism. Individuals who are hyposensitive may have difficulty recognizing sensations like hunger or pain, or exhibit an attraction to loud noises, bright lights, and vibrant colors. They may engage in sensory-seeking behaviors to get more input from the environment, such as making loud noises, touching people or objects, or rocking back and forth [5].

Atypical visual behavior is also noted in individuals with ASD, such as attempting to avoid visual input or seeking additional visual stimuli. Regions known to integrate multiple sensory inputs, including the pre-frontal cortex and association regions of the temporal lobe, have been implicated in the compromise of Multi-Sensory Integration (MSI) in ASD [4]. In addition, deficits in attentional shifting and sustained attention may contribute to the observed sensory processing differences.

Accommodating the sensory needs of autistic toddlers can ease their discomfort and enhance their opportunities to learn, socialize, communicate, and participate in various activities. Accommodations may involve modifying the environment, using tools and strategies, creating new habits, or adapting routines based on individual sensory needs and settings. Understanding these sensory sensitivities is a vital part of unraveling the things autistic toddlers do, and can lead to more effective strategies for their care and development.

Addressing Social Skills in Autism

When it comes to autism, one of the things autistic toddlers often struggle with is developing and understanding social skills. However, there are effective ways to address this, including play and role-playing.

The Importance of Play

Play is one of the best ways to help autistic children learn and develop social skills, including turn-taking, coping with winning and losing, and following rules. It provides opportunities to practice these skills in everyday situations.

Autistic children can benefit from practicing play skills through activities like movement games, role-playing, and playing games like Connect Four, Jenga, or card games. These activities can help them improve their social interactions.

Providing autistic children with plenty of praise and encouragement when they interact positively with others, such as sharing toys, can reinforce social skills development.

Play Activities Social Skills Developed
Movement games Turn-taking, following rules
Role-playing Empathy, understanding social cues
Board games (e.g., Connect Four, Jenga) Coping with winning and losing, strategic thinking

Role-Playing and Autism

Role-playing before social events or playdates can help autistic children practice social skills, understand social problems, and learn how to handle different scenarios effectively.

Social stories and visual supports, like pictures, words, and prompts, can effectively teach autistic children skills like communicating, joining in with others, and learning new activities.

Role-Playing Activities Social Skills Developed
Practicing social scenarios Understanding social cues, problem-solving
Using social stories and visual supports Communicating, joining in with others, learning new activities

Utilizing these methods can aid in the growth and development of social skills in autistic toddlers, making it easier for them to navigate their social world.

Motor Behavior in Autism

Motor behavior is a key area of exploration when understanding the typical behaviors of autistic toddlers. This includes the analysis of motor repetitions and the role of motor routines.

Understanding Motor Repetitions

Motor repetitions are one of the distinct behaviors autistic toddlers often exhibit. These actions, also referred to as "lower-order," include self-stimulation, hand flapping, twirling, repeating phrases, manipulating objects, banging toys together, and repeatedly pushing buttons [7]. Autistic toddlers may show additional repetitive behaviors such as rocking the body or opening and closing drawers repeatedly. These behaviors serve as self-calming tools and can vary significantly from person to person [3].

Motor repetitions can lead to trial-and-error discovery and potentially fuel technological advances in tools, weapons, and shelter construction. This suggests that these behaviors, while often seen as disruptive, can also have a constructive side [7].

The Role of Motor Routines

Motor routines play a significant role in the lives of autistic toddlers. They allow these individuals to avoid on-going social demands and can provide a sense of calm in the face of social and other stressors [7].

Motor routines are driven by the reward of discovery, similar to intense interests and scientific discoveries. This suggests that these routines are not merely repetitive actions, but are a form of information-seeking behavior [7].

By understanding these motor behaviors, caregivers and professionals can better support autistic toddlers. Recognizing the function of these behaviors – as self-soothing mechanisms or as information-seeking tools – can guide strategies to support the child's development and well-being.

Strategies to Support Autistic Toddlers

As caregivers and educators, understanding the behaviors and needs of autistic toddlers is crucial in providing them with the right support. Here, we outline some strategies that can be used to support autistic toddlers, focusing on functional communication training, accommodating sensory needs, and encouraging verbal communication.

Functional Communication Training

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is a form of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy that aims to replace maladaptive behaviors with appropriate and functional communication responses. This approach is used to help children with autism learn communication skills so they can express their wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings effectively and appropriately.

There are 5 basic steps to FCT:

  1. Identify the challenging or unwanted behavior.
  2. Identify the function of the unwanted behavior.
  3. Identify the replacement behavior or functional communication response.
  4. Teach and reinforce the functional communication response.
  5. Fade prompts until the child communicates independently.

FCT teaches children to communicate their needs, wants, and feelings through functional communication responses that are easier to do than maladaptive behaviors. This may involve using picture cards, signs or gestures, or simple vocal language.

Accommodating Sensory Needs

Autistic children often experience sensory sensitivities. Accommodating these sensory needs can ease discomfort and enhance opportunities for children to learn, socialize, communicate, and participate in various activities [5].

Accommodations may involve:

  • Modifying the environment: This could include using softer lights, reducing noise, or providing a quiet space for the child.
  • Using tools and strategies: Sensory toys, weighted blankets, or headphones can be used to help the child manage sensory inputs.
  • Creating new habits: Regular exercise or a consistent bedtime routine can help manage sensory sensitivities.
  • Adapting routines: Caregivers can adjust daily routines based on the child's sensory needs and settings.

Encouraging Verbal Communication

Encouraging verbal communication in autistic children can involve activities like making connections between objects and words, expanding vocabulary, and stimulating conversations. These activities can help the child understand the meaning of words and how they are used in different contexts.

Seeking guidance from speech pathologists or autism professionals can be beneficial in supporting and enhancing the child's communication skills. They can provide specific strategies and activities tailored to the child's needs and abilities.

Implementing these strategies can help support autistic toddlers in their everyday lives. Remember that each child is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. It's important to be patient, flexible, and supportive in your approach.