Autism is a variation in neurological development classified as a type of developmental disability that occurs in around one percent of individuals worldwide. There are various indicators an individual may be on the autism spectrum.
Everyone with autism is unique, and there is no one specific way the condition presents. It’s crucial to understand the ways different symptoms can present, as stereotypical portrayals of autism have caused many individuals to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed until adulthood.
Though autism impacts every aspect of an affected individual’s day-to-day life, many autistic individuals say their neurodivergence allows them to have a more creative and unique perspective on the world.
5 Symptoms and Signs of Autism
Many individuals with autism go on to lead successful, happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. Get familiar with the symptoms and signs of autism now.
1. Issues with Language Development
Children with autism or others on the spectrum typically don’t develop language with the same markers neurotypical children do. There are certain milestones neurotypical children tend to meet at certain ages. If a child doesn’t meet these milestones, they may be autistic.
Children usually begin babbling and cooing by twelve months old, and they begin saying singular words by sixteen months. By two years old, most children can say two-word phrases.
Children who don’t meet these milestones may be autistic, or they may have other developmental issues that make learning language difficult.
About twenty-five percent of children with autism are nonverbal, which means they don’t speak at all. Some nonverbal children can communicate in other ways like pointing or sign language.
There haven’t been many studies regarding how autism influences the development of language over time, though researchers have observed some children with autism use vocabulary far more advanced than their peers, which indicates a high level of intelligence and information retention.
In the past, autism that presented without significant language impairment was diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome, but nowadays everything is covered under the same spectrum.
2. Limited Eye Contact
Limited eye contact is one of many behavioral signs that indicate an individual may have autism. That said, not making eye contact isn’t always an indication of autism. Lack of eye contact also doesn’t mean the individual isn’t paying attention to their environment or engaged with the world around them.
The reasoning behind limited eye contact hasn’t been conclusively proven, but individuals with autism have described various reasons. It may be difficult for the affected individual to focus on another’s eyes and spoken words simultaneously.
It’s also possible eye contact is a learned social behavior child with autism don’t pick up on. Many children and adults with this condition feel like they gather more about someone by watching their hands or eyes.
Eye contact also has the potential to be an overwhelming and intense experience that causes sensory issues. For all of these reasons, individuals with autism may prefer not to make eye contact, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in communicating.
3. Struggles with Understanding Feelings of Others
Individuals with autism or who are considered to be on the spectrum can struggle with understanding the feelings of others. However, there is a misconception that all of these individuals are unable to recognize feelings or read emotions. This is not true.
About fifty percent of individuals with autism also have alexithymia, which is a difficulty with identifying the emotions they’re feeling. One study indicated individuals with autism and alexithymia were less likely to feel empathy for others.
By contrast, individuals who had autism without alexithymia had typical levels of empathy for others. It’s also worth noting just because someone doesn’t understand another’s emotions does not mean they don’t care about the other’s feelings.
Some individuals with autism say they need to teach themselves to read certain body cues and facial expressions others may interpret instinctively. Some individuals with autism also say it’s difficult for them to understand what’s upsetting someone else without having it specifically explained.
It’s possible for individuals with autism to understand and care about the feelings of others, but communicating those feelings often needs to be more blunt than neurotypical individuals are used to.
4. Exhibits Repetitive Behaviors
One of the most common signs of autism is repetitive behaviors. These behaviors might involve hand flapping, spinning, rocking, or any other physical motions. The repetition of these motions can help soothe individuals who are having sensory issues or experiencing an emotional overload.
However, repetitive behaviors aren’t always a sign of distress. ‘Stimming’ involves repetitive or unusual motions that can express joy or pleasure. In the past, many treatments for autism aimed to reduce or eliminate repetitive motions, though this is more harmful than helpful.
Forcing children to sit still when they want to move can lead to severe stress and even trauma. There’s nothing wrong with using repetitive motion.
The only types of repetitive behaviors that should be stopped are ones that cause harm, like banging one’s head or biting. Rather than trying to stop these behaviors, it’s better to encourage them as methods of self-expression.
5. Upset by Changes in Routines
Children and adults with autism can both become upset by changes in routines. Many affected individuals have specific rituals and routines they develop.
These can be soothing and help them cope with heightened levels of anxiety, which many individuals with autism experience due to sensory issues and trouble with social functioning. The DSM-5 outlines multiple ways this can occur.
Individuals might need to eat the same foods or take the same routes each day, may experience rigid patterns in thinking, may have distress when small things are changed, or have trouble transitioning into a new place or period of life.
Preventing these rituals can lead to extreme levels of distress, which compounds with any anxiety that already exists. The routines can become a problem if they become so excessive that they interfere with an individual’s daily life. Any routine that reaches a point where it causes distress rather than helping is an indication of a problem.