The severity of symptoms varies
greatly, but all people with
autism have some core symptoms in the areas of:
Social interactions and relationships. Symptoms may include:
- Significant problems developing nonverbal
communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body
- Failure to establish friendships with children the same
- Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or
achievements with other people.
- Lack of empathy. People with autism
may have difficulty understanding another person's feelings, such as pain or
Verbal and nonverbal communication. Symptoms may include:
- Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk.
As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.1
- Problems taking steps to start a conversation.
Also, people with autism have difficulties continuing a conversation after it
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language. People with
autism often repeat over and over a phrase they have heard previously
- Difficulty understanding their listener's perspective.
For example, a person with autism may not understand that someone is using
humor. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to catch the
Limited interests in activities or play. Symptoms may include:
- An unusual focus on pieces. Younger
children with autism often focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels on a car,
rather than playing with the entire toy.
- Preoccupation with
certain topics. For example, older children and adults may be fascinated by
video games, trading cards, or license plates.
- A need for sameness
and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread
before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to
- Stereotyped behaviors. These may include body rocking and
Symptoms during childhood
Symptoms of autism are
usually noticed first by parents and other caregivers sometime during the
child's first 3 years. Although autism is present at birth (congenital), signs
of the disorder can be difficult to identify or diagnose during infancy.
Parents often become concerned when their toddler does not like to be held;
does not seem interested in playing certain games, such as peekaboo; and does
not begin to talk. Sometimes, a child with autism will start to talk at the same time as
other children the same age, then lose his or her language skills. Parents also
may be confused about their child's hearing abilities. It often seems that a
child with autism does not hear, yet at other times, he or she may appear to
hear a distant background noise, such as the whistle of a train.
With early and intensive treatment, most children improve their ability
to relate to others, communicate, and help themselves as they grow older.
Contrary to popular myths about children with autism, very few are completely
socially isolated or "live in a world of their own."