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Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Autism is a disorder which is marked by impairments in social skills, behavior, and speech. Children with autism are often withdrawn, lack emotion and speech, and are extremely sensitive to sound and touch. They may engage in repetitive behaviors, have a hard time reading emotional states, and are often intensely preoccupied with a single activity or subject.  :

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders which include classical Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) and Rett’s Disorder. We have put together a list of common signs and symptoms of autism below.

The Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Autism:

Since autism is a disorder and not a disease, it is not entirely accurate to refer to “symptoms” of autism. Instead, there is a range of signs and behavior patterns that indicate autism. Signs of autism may appear during infancy, and the disorder is usually diagnosed by the time the child is 3 years old. Sometimes the child’s behavior appears normal until 18 months to 2 years, and then regresses rapidly. This is referred to as “regressive autism”. Signs and symptoms of autism occur in various combinations and range from mild to severe.

Signs of Autism in Infants Signs of Autism in Young Children
  • Abnormal reactions to sensory stimuli
  • Resists cuddling, hugging or affection
  • Lack of response to others
  • Indifferent to surroundings
  • Sleep disorders
  • Lack of interest in playing with toys
  • Appears content to be alone
  • Does not point out objects of interest
  • Inconsolable crying or screaming
  • Apparent hearing problems
  • Uses gestures instead of words
  • Does not respond to name
  • No eye contact
  • Unaware of toys
  • Repetitive use of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Does not smile
  • Loss of communication and verbal skills at any age
  • Age 16 months with no word use
  • Age 2 years with no two word sentences
Signs of Autism in Children
  • Is not interested in other people and prefers to be alone
  • Resists changes in routine
  • Repeats actions (turning in circles, flapping their arms, rocking, head banging)
  • Tendency to withdraw from social interactions
  • Heightened activity, or very little activity
  • Toe-walking
  • Uneven motor skills
  • Innappropriate attachment to objects
  • Frequent behavioral outbursts, tantrums
  • Seizures
  • Learning difficulties
  • Reduced or increased sensitivity to pain
  • Resistance to touch
  • Abnormally sensitive to sounds, smells, bright lights, or other sensory stimulation
  • No interactive play with other children
  • Lacks empathy
  • Has difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling

Diagnosis of Autism

In order to make a formal diagnosis of Autism, the following signs and symptoms must be present:
Impairment in
social interaction
Impairment in communication skills Restricted, stereotyped
& repetitive behavior,
interests and activities
  • Lack of eye contact, facial expressions and social gestures

  • Failure to develop peer relationships

  • Does not seek out social interaction

  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  • Language delay or absence

  • Inability to initiate and sustain conversation

  • Stereotyped or ‘strange’ use of language

  • Lack of make believe or social play
  • Abnormally intense preoccupation with certain activities or areas of interest

  • Inflexible insistence on certain nonfunctional rituals or routines

  • Stereotyped and repetitive movements ie. hand flapping, preoccupation with parts of objects
To make the diagnosis at least 6 of the above markers must be noted, as well as developmental delays in at least one of the following areas:

  • Delayed or abnormal social interaction
  • Delay or abnormal use of language in social interaction
  • Delay or absence in symbolic or imaginative play

Please note that many healthy children will display some of these symptoms, this does not make them autistic! the symptoms above can range from mild to severe.

Books for People or Children With Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs
Chantal Sicile-Kira
1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition
Ellen Notbohm

The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s
Temple Grandin
Cutting-Edge Therapies for Autism 2010-2011
Ken Siri

Autism Resources

General Patient Resources

  • Autism Research Institute (ARI)

This organization was created in response to a global need for networking and communication among autism groups. Although there are different perspectives among the autism groups, most share a common goal for a globally accepted standard of care and the elimination of discrimination.

  • The National Autistic Society

We are the leading UK charity for people with autism (including Asperger syndrome) and their families. We provide information, support and pioneering services, and campaign for a better world for people with autism.

  • Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Their longtime friend Bernie Marcus donated $25 million to help financially launch the organization. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

  • Autism Society

Nationwide support group that promotes lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum and their families to be fully included.

  • National Autism Association

The mission of the National Autism Association is to respond to the most urgent needs of the autism community.

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

A detailed booklet that describes Autism symptoms, causes, and treatments, with information on getting help and coping.

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Autism fact sheet put out by NINDS.