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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Understanding Autism -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Autism?

A child with autism spectrum disorder may have problems in three different areas -- socializing, communicating, and behavior.

Each child with an autism spectrum disorder will have his or her own individual pattern of behavior: Sometimes, a child's development is delayed from birth; other children develop normally before suddenly losing social or language skills. In some children, a loss of language is the impairment; in others, unusual behaviors (like spending hours lining up toys) predominate.

Understanding Autism

Find out more about autism:



Diagnosis and Treatment


Parents are usually the first to notice something is wrong. Unfortunately, there is often a significant delay in parents bringing their concerns to the doctor and in doctors referring a child to a specialist. Parents should trust their instincts if they feel their child is not developing normally.

Some red flags are:

  • No babbling by 9 months
  • No pointing or gestures by 12 months
  • Not responding to their name by 12 months of age
  • No single words by 16 months
  • Lack of pretend play by 18 months
  • No two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of language or social skills at any age

Other signs of autism to look for include:

  • Extreme difficulty in learning language.
  • Inappropriate response to people: A child with autism may avoid eye contact, resist being picked up or cuddled, and seem to tune out the world.
  • Inability or reduced ability to play cooperatively with other children or to make friends.
  • Inability to understand other people's feelings.
  • Need for a rigid, highly structured routine -- and being very distressed by changes in routines
  • Extreme hyperactivity or unusual passivity, and extreme resistance to change.
  • Aggressive, self-injurious behavior.
  • Repetitive body movements, including pacing, hand flicking, twisting, spinning, rocking, or hitting oneself.
  • Insensitivity to pain or lack of response to cold or heat.
  • Impulsive behavior and no real fear of dangers.
  • An unusual attachment to inanimate objects such as toys, strings, or spinning objects.
  • Frequent crying and tantrums for no apparent reason.
  • Peculiar speech patterns: A child with autism may use words without understanding their meanings.
  • Abnormal responses to sensations such as light, sound, and touch: At times, a child with autism may appear deaf or may be extremely distressed by everyday noises or repeat words or phrases over and over.
  • Some of these symptoms occur in children with other disabilities. Symptoms can change as the child grows older.

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