What are the signs and symptoms of autism?
ASD symptoms usually become apparent in early childhood between the ages of 12 and 24 months. But symptoms can appear sooner or later.
- Early signs may include a delay in social or language development.
- DSM-5 categorizes ASD symptoms into two groups:
- Communication and social interaction problems
- Restricted or repetitive patterns in behavior or activities
- Autism must be experienced in both these areas for a person to be diagnosed.
- Communication and social interaction problems
- ASD can lead to communication issues that range from mild to severe. Many of these problems are present before age 5.
Here is a general timeline to show how this could look:
- From birth: trouble maintaining eye contact
- After 9 months, they have not responded to their name
- At 9 months, they will no longer display facial expressions that reflect their emotions (like anger or surprise)
- After 12 months, you have stopped engaging in basic interactive games like pat-a cake or peek-aboo.
- After 12 months, you will have stopped using or only used a few hand gestures like hand-waving.
- At 15 months, they will not share their interests with anyone (e.g., by showing someone a favorite toys).
- After 18 months, you will no longer be pointing at or looking where others point
- After 24 months, you will not notice when others seem sad or hurt.
- At 30 months, you should stop pretending to play with dolls or figurines.
- At 60 months old, you must stop playing turn-taking games like duck-duck goose.
Autistic children may have difficulty understanding the feelings of others and communicating their emotions starting at 36 months.
They might experience difficulty speaking or speech impairments as they get older. Language skills may develop at a slower pace in autistic children. They might be able to talk about a topic they find very interesting if that topic is a priority. They might not be able to communicate about other topics.
Autistic children may start talking when they are able to speak. Their tone can vary from robotic and flat to high-pitched, “sing-songy”, or even sing-songy.
Hyperlexia is a condition that causes them to read beyond what they are expected to. Autism spectrum children might be able to read faster than their neurotypical peers. Sometimes, they can even learn to read as young as 2. They may not understand what they are reading.
Although hyperlexia is not always associated with autism, research shows that nearly 84 percent are on the spectrum.
Autistic children may have trouble sharing their emotions with others and might find it difficult to maintain a back-and-forth conversation. It is possible that nonverbal communication such as eye contact and body language can be difficult. These communication challenges can continue into adulthood.
Repetitive or restricted patterns of behavior or activity
Autism includes, in addition to the communication issues and social issues discussed above, symptoms that are related to body movements or behaviors.
These could include:
- Repetitive movements such as rocking, flapping their arms or spinning are all possible.
- Line objects like toys up in a strict order, and get upset when the order is disrupted
- Attachment to rigid routines like bedtime or getting up for school
- Repeating phrases or words they hear over and over
- getting upset over minor changes
- Focusing on specific parts of objects like the wheels of a toy car or the hair of dolls, is a good way to focus.
- Unusual reactions to sensory inputs like sounds, smells and tastes
Talented abilities such as musical talent or exceptional memory are examples of these extraordinary talents.
- Some autistic people might experience additional symptoms, including:
- Language, delayed movement, and cognitive skills
- Constipation and diarrhea are common gastrointestinal symptoms
- Stress and excessive worry
- Unusual levels of fear (either greater or less than expected)
- Hyperactive, inattentive or impulsive behavior
- Unexpected emotional reactions
- Unusual eating habits and preferences
- Unusual sleep patterns
What is stimming?
“Stimming” can be used to describe self-stimulating behaviors that involve repetitive motions and speech.
One example is to clap, rub an object or repeat a phrase. Although it’s usually associated with autistic individuals, almost everyone does some form stimming.
Stimming can cause harm or interfere with daily living for autistic individuals. It can be a useful coping mechanism to deal with sensory overload and navigate uncomfortable situations.
What are the differences between autism types?
American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is used by clinicians to diagnose many psychiatric disorders.
In 2013, the fifth edition of DSM-5 was published. Five different ASD subtypes or specifiers are currently recognized by the DSM-5. These are:
- With or without intellectual impairment
- With or without an accompanying language impairment
- Associated with a medical condition, genetic condition, or environmental factor
- Associated with another neurodevelopmental or mental disorder
- A diagnosis can be made of any one or more specificrs.
- Autistic individuals may have had a diagnosis before the DSM-5.
- Autistic disorder
- Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
- childhood disintegrative disorder
- It is important to remember that someone who has received an earlier diagnosis does not lose their diagnosis and will not have to be reevaluated.
According to DSM-5, ASD can be described as a broad diagnosis that includes conditions like Asperger’s syndrome. Find out more about Asperger’s syndrome and other older autism classifications.