Autism spectrum disorder: Symptoms and signs

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is known as a “developmental disability”. It affects the way that people develop in many aspects of their lives. From the way they communicate to their ability to interact with others in a community, acquire new skills, and build relationships with their parents or caregivers, there are many signs and symptoms of autism. 

Let’s look at the behavior you should recognize as potential harbingers of an autism diagnosis. 

Interaction and social communication skills

Interaction and social communication skills

Interaction and social communication skills are difficult for children and adults with ASD. While there are many potential indicators of developmental issues consistent with autism, some of the most common of them include:

  • Avoids eye contact or is unable to maintain eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to their name by the time they reach nine months
  • Does not demonstrate facial expressions such as happy, angry, sad, and surprised by the time they reach nine months
  • Doesn’t play interactive games such as pat-a-cake by one year old
  • Does not use gestures by one year old, or uses very few gestures by one year old (they might not wave “goodbye”, for example)
  • Does not demonstrate interests with other people by 15 months of age
  • Does not recognize when people are upset or hurt by two years of age
  • Does not have play-time interactions with children by three years of age
  • Does not demonstrate “make-believe” activities by four years of age
  • Does not act, dance, or sing for you by five years of age

Of the above autism symptoms, the lack of conversation, small movements such as waving, and an inability to relate to other people are some of the most easily recognizable. 

Repetitive or restricted behaviors/interests

While some kids with ASD do not share their interests, others have unconventional interests that are demonstrated by varied patterns of behavior. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Lines up objects or toys in a specific order and gets upset when that order is disrupted
  • Repeats phrases or words over and over (echolalia)
  • Plays with the same toys the same way every time
  • Focuses on specific parts of objects (wheels or windows, for example)
  • Is upset by small changes
  • Demonstrates obsessive interests
  • Has certain routines they feel they must follow
  • Demonstrates movements like spinning in circles, rocking their body, or flapping hands
  • Reacts unusually to the feel, smell, taste, sound, or look of things

Keep an eye out for problems adapting to new situations, including new toys, new routines, or new people. In general, you don’t need to attempt to dissuade their interest unless it is something harmful. Professionals can help with problem behaviors.

Other characteristics

Other common autism symptoms include:

  • Delayed movement skills
  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed learning or cognitive skills
  • Inattentive, impulsive, or hyperactive behavior
  • Seizure disorder or epilepsy 
  • Unusual sleeping and eating habits
  • Unusual emotional reactions or moods
  • Excessive worry, stress, or anxiety
  • Markedly more or less fear than expected

Note that while not all autistic people will have all of the above, delayed speech, stunted social development, and difficulties communicating are some of the most common. 

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