What are the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Every person with autism is different. However, there are some common characteristics of individuals with autism that may occur. Remember that although these are some common characteristics no two persons with autism experience the world or behave in the same way:

  • Difficulty in using and understanding language. Some children develop typical speech patterns until age two.
  • Poorly developed social skills and unusual play with toys.
  • Over or under sensitivity to sound, sight, taste, touch, or smell.
  • Repetitive behaviors such as spinning objects or rocking.
  • Certain behaviors exhibited to stimulate the senses, such as switching a light on and off repeatedly, or humming loudly.
  • Difficulty with changes to surroundings or routines.
  • Very high levels of activity for long periods of time.
  • Uneven skill development. Some skills are normal or superior for their age while others show significant delay.
  • Challenging behaviors such as aggression, self injury or severe withdrawal.

Source: Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD)

Characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) usually start before the age of three and last for the person's whole life. ASD can affect lots of different things, like how a person communicates. For example, some people with ASD can't speak at all, while others can speak but can't hold a conversation. Others may have difficulty understanding what people say.

People with ASD may also have difficulty communicating how they feel or understanding how other people feel. For example, they may not realize that someone is angry if he/she is shouting. You might have to tell the person with ASD exactly what you are thinking or feeling. People with ASD might also find it difficult to read facial expressions or tones of voice, making it difficult to understand jokes, sarcasm, and figures of speech.

A lack of smiling by itself doesn’t mean your child has autism, says PanteaSharifi-Hannauer, M.D., a pediatric neurologist, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, who specializes in autism and epilepsy. But if you notice that your baby also isn’t babbling, cooing, making eye contact or responding to his name by 12 months, you should speak to your pediatrician about getting an evaluation, she says.

“Moms know when there’s something off with their baby,” Dr. Sharifi-Hannauer says. “One thing that studies have shown repeatedly is that primary doctors need to take mothers’ concerns more seriously."

The red flags for autism are:

  • Doesn’t respond to name
  • Poor eye contact
  • Doesn’t smile
  • Doesn’t play with toys
  • Doesn’t engage
  • Delayed language
  • Delayed social skills

If you suspect your child is not developing normally, speak to your pediatrician about your concerns or schedule an appointment with a pediatric neurologist. “The sooner you start, the better the prognosis,” says Dr. Sharifi-Hannauer.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with autism have a wide range of symptoms involving social and communication impairment and behavioral presentations. Some of the presentations include an aversion to eye contact, a want to be alone, delayed speech, repeating words or phrases, flapping their hands, rocking their body or spinning in circles. However, each person presents symptoms in his or her own way.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.