I suppose it depends on the severity of the condition, but I was wondering how normal it is to go through several years of school before a "problem" is noticed by parents and/or teachers or other professionals. Is this possible?

  • 2
    I was diagnosed at 48 y.o.
    – boisvert
    Sep 6, 2015 at 22:06

5 Answers 5


but I was wondering how normal it is to go through several years of school before a "problem" is noticed by parents and/or teachers or other professionals. Is this possible?

Autism is strange beast. It is extremely varied from person to person, and other psychological disorders (and several genetic ones) can look like Autism and not be it. Depression is a good example. Both have very similar symptoms, and at times it's a toss up between which one it is.

3 is around the age where they make an actual diagnosis (also) I believe, but if you have a good pediatrician they start looking for signs much earlier, 1.5 to 2 years old. You should have been asked questions, or given a list to fill out before the child's 2 year checkup. (now depending on the child's age, this may not have happened, as within the past few years, they revised the checklist to include children of a younger age.) You can ask your child's doctor for an Autism checklist they give to parent's to see if concern is warranted.

Children can technically move in and out of this diagnosis, it's just that most don't. Unfortunately, there is no genetic test etc. to say, "Yep, that's what it is." On the upside that means that some of those who go through counseling etc. can lead a somewhat normal as opposed to things like Down's Syndrome where those people will almost always need some sort of help.

It is definitely possible for this to get "missed". Teachers and doctors who are overworked or just don't care could miss early warning signs. The problem with Autism is that it covers a range of behaviors. Depending on the severity, a mild case might be labelled as quirky, or shy. 30 years ago a child who was considered an outsider, might be diagnosed with Autism now. Asperger's syndrome is an Autism spectrum disorder, and people with this are capable of functioning in society without difficulty.

If you have health insurance, what I would do is explain to the child's doctor your concerns and see what comes as that. Check with your insurance provider and see if you can have a psychologist do a formal evaluation. You can also check with the school to see if they have someone who can do that also. In the U.S. most places have developmental schools which are specifically geared towards diagnosing and helping children with disabilities. I suggest this advice more than all others: have two people evaluate the child. Autism can be very very difficult to diagnose, because it focuses on a range of behaviors. One person may say no, where the other may say yes. If you suspect something is wrong, and the first says no, go to the second one. I know this sounds like you are shopping for the answer you want, but in this case you should be absolutely sure. The sooner the better too. The earlier treatment starts, the better off the child will be.

Above all, you need to have professionals evaluate the child. Don't try and make a formal judgement yourself. They know what to look for, and they know what other problems look and what to look for.

Here is what you have to remember above all about Autism. The child is still your kid. Autism is nothing more than a name given to a series of behaviors. Don't let a formal diagnosis change how you feel. All it is saying is that the person needs some help in certain areas. Think of it like getting a Math tutor, but it's tutoring for social skills. Most children with Autism aren't slow, they aren't retarded, they just have difficulty in social situations. If you haven't heard of Temple Grandin, I would check here: http://www.templegrandin.com/templehome.html

  • 3
    +1 Autism is a spectrum disorder. There are most likely many people well into adulthood that haven't been diagnosed. My daughter has aspergers and wasn't diagnosed until she was 12. A lot of symptoms present as normal adolescent awkwardness.
    – Bill
    Dec 13, 2011 at 17:38
  • I was well over 50 when I was diagnosed with autism.
    – pojo-guy
    Oct 12, 2018 at 12:09

This is a very difficult question to answer, for the following reasons:

  • Autism spectrum disorders are incredibly varied.

  • The medical definition of autism is changing: the DSM IV definition is quite different from the soon-to-be-adopted DSM V definition.

  • The legal definition of autism (at least in the US) is completely different from the medical definition of autism.

  • Autism isn't only diagnosed when a child is autistic. At least here in the U.S., huge monetary benefits are lavished upon schools for each child diagnosed with autism. Thus, if a child has any special needs, rather than having no extra help paying for what can be expensive treatment, schools are motivated to shoehorn the child into a diagnosis like autism that comes with federal and state funding.

  • There's a difference between diagnosing autism and accurately diagnosing autism. There's no objective test for autism. In most cases, the best way to diagnose autism is to see if the treatments that help autism help the child. So in a way, it's hard to know if a child is autistic until after he/she is diagnosed with autism.

Finally, as Kevin already pointed out, many other things can be confused for autism. A number of speech/language disorders, emotional trauma, sensory integration disorders, sensory processing disorders, extremely high IQ, a number of social issues, and several behavior disorders (just off the top of my head) are commonly mistaken for autism.

As a very general guideline: I'd be very leery of someone offering a "definitive" autism diagnosis under age 6 or so, and I'd be equally skeptical of an autism determination for a child who showed no symptoms during early schooling and suddenly developed problems later on. While it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether a young one's problems are related to autism or not, unless it's a case of high-functioning autism or aspergers being initially masked by a very bright child's intelligence, it's hard not to know that something is up long before the child is done with primary school.


Autism is not so much a disorder as a range of symptoms. With the advent of functional brain scans, we are starting to see that there are at least six unrelated patterns of abnormal brain metabolism that express as autism. The problem we have now is we don't understand what the functional brain scans are telling us.

Over time, as our understanding of brain metabolism and function improves, we can expect the vague and not particularly useful diagnosis of "autism" to be supplanted with more cause oriented descriptions - the same way that "breast cancer" has been supplanted by a host of specific types of cancer that are objectively the same no matter where they occur in the body.

Diagnosis happens when someone detects a problem that warrants consideration. If the symptoms are severe enough to be seen as developmental delays then it can be diagnosed between the ages of 1 and 2. Otherwise, diagnosis might happen at any time - I was diagnosed in my mid-50's as a side line to researching other health issues.


ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder is a sensory integration disorder which occurs in the Neuro-developmental disability related to communication problems and behavioral changes at a very young age.

Autism is a complex condition, and a number of different circumstances can set the stage for autism such as environmental, biological or genetic factors.

Early signs of autism can be detected in infants as young as 6-18 months. Every child on the spectrum is different and will show the signs in a different manner. Early warning signs may include:

No or little social smiling by 6 months.
No babbling, pointing or meaningful gestures by 12 months.
No communication with others by 16 months.
Poor or less eye contact.
Not responding to sounds, voices, or name.
Reluctant towards sharing things or interests.

Early signs and interventions for ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder are crucial to a child’s long-term success.

However, there is no proper defined set of medical tests to diagnose the autism spectrum. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development with time.

Although a proper diagnosis is reliable when the infant is between 2 to 3 years of age.

I have been working as a Sped Tutor for the past 20 years. In my experience autism spectrum ranges from mildly to profoundly disabling in an individual.


  1. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/symptoms-appear
  2. https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/how-early-can-autism-be-diagnosed
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S007477500080004X
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC188387/

Sorry but I have to disagree with Kevin based upon the evidence.

Autism is generally diagnosed around the second birthday and as another poster said, there is a wide variation and severity of problems, which make a child at one end of the autistic spectrum very, very, different from a child at the other end of the spectrum. The problems can not simply be explained in terms of "behaviours" like "needing a math tutor" - these are a set of problems caused by abnormal neuro-development. It seems that in individuals who have autism, parts of the brain wire themselves together differently. - It now seems also that there can be various causes for this, one of which is genetic, but also autism can be caused by brain injury.

Neither are the problems caused by this abnormal wiring pattern just "social," they are wide ranging. The fact is that the majority of children who have autism also have some degree of learning difficulty; - some also have epilepsy; - many experience sensory processing difficulties, which then have the effect of producing obsessive, compulsive, defensive and other behaviours.

As to your point about being able to go several years without is being noticed, - with some very mild cases, possible. There is a good book which describes many of the problems which are faced by autistic individuals, which you can find it here.

  • Specifically, what part of Kevin's answer do you disagree with? He made numerous points. If it is about the age of diagnosis, webmd agrees with him, and not you: webmd.com/brain/autism/news/20060602/… as does autismweb.com/signs.htm
    – user420
    Jun 30, 2011 at 14:28
  • Webmd is wrong! Aug 5, 2011 at 7:51
  • As is autismweb.com? Do you have any references to support that claim?
    – user420
    Aug 5, 2011 at 11:14

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