Published: October 5, 2020
Updated: January 3, 2023
Getting an accurate diagnosis of any neurological disorder is key to proper treatment. With that in mind, what are the characteristics of autism?
In this blog, we’ll look at the following:
- The three core symptoms of autism
- The main cause of autism
- Persistent challenges in social situations
- Unusual reactions to sensory stimulus
- Obsessive behavior
- Communication issues
- Other common characteristics
What are the Three Core Symptoms of Autism?
Ultimately, the most important thing is understanding how to help a child with their specific needs after their autism diagnosis, and identifying the characteristics of their case can be key to this.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association provides standardized criteria to diagnose ASD. There are three core deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD):
- Impaired communication: A delay in or lack of development of spoken language and gestures.
- Impaired social interactions: Lack of spontaneous sharing, social skills or emotional reciprocity, or difficulty developing peer relationships.
- Stereotypy: Inappropriate repetitive movements that are maintained by automatic reinforcement.
Each of these core deficits has a direct effect on the examples of what you will read below.
What is the Main Cause of Autism?
As a developmental disorder, ASD comes from differences in the brain, including genetic conditions. Other than this, there are no confirmed external causes of autism.
Common Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Persistent Challenges in Social Situations
These are often some of the first characteristics that will present in children with autism. However, because development varies from person to person, it can be a while before parents or therapists consider these problems as indicators of a child on the spectrum.
These social communications include issues with back-and-forth conversation, difficulty understanding social cues, or difficulty developing relationships. In these examples, a child might refuse to answer questions when prompted, avoid eye contact when attempted, and then have subsequent difficulty making friends.
Once you begin to notice these in a child, make sure to have them evaluated by a psychologist, and if there is a diagnosis of ASD, begin educating yourself and your family on how to adjust best.
Unusual Reactions to Sensory Stimulus
Put simply, this would be when your child reacts adversely to a particular environment, including how things sound, taste, smell, look or feel.
This can be for several reasons, including sensory overload in how the brain processes different stimuli. This is often called hypersensitivity; for example, a child may have heightened sensitivities to sounds. When coupled with other characteristics, it can be a leading indicator for an autism diagnosis.
It is essential not to reprimand your child for reacting like this to a stimulus; by overtly responding to certain behaviors, you will risk inadvertently reinforcing that behavior, resulting in more frequent occurrences. This is where having a metered approach through therapy and education will best help your child adjust to hypersensitivity.
Another characteristic of autism is a fixation on objects, topics, or specific activities. This is where the ‘savant syndrome’ of autism might present itself (10–30% of people with autism may demonstrate a savant skill). However, it is realistically more likely to manifest as obsessive patterns of behavior, interests, or reactions.
Often, it will be an object of comfort like a toy, an interesting topic they learned about in school, or an activity that brings them comfort. People with autism thrive on routine, and a break in this can upset them.
If your child exhibits obsessive, restricted, repetitive behaviors, it does not necessarily correlate with an autism diagnosis, but it is worth considering. Sometimes other undiagnosed issues can lead to similar behaviors, so make sure you speak with a specialist about possible outcomes and diagnoses before enrolling your child in a program.
There is no standard for how autism affects a child; each case is unique. While some children will have perfectly normal speech development patterns, As many as 30 percent of autistic children have nonspeaking autism (nonverbal autism) or are minimally verbal.
Similarly, a child with autism may have trouble remembering words or delay their ability to speak, convey facial expressions, or utilize tone of voice. Phrase repetition, talking to themselves, or attempting to create and use their own language might also be a symptom.
Because speech is such a nuanced part of all human activity, making assumptions based on early patterns of behavior is difficult. However, if there are persistent issues along with other cues, it may be time to look into how ABA therapy, speech-language, or other therapy can help your child communicate more easily.
The good news is that even if early speech development is inhibited, many children with autism develop skills to communicate effectively. Most importantly, a child’s quality of daily living will almost always be improved if there is an effective treatment for their language skills and early communication issues.
Other Common Characteristics
Some quick behavioral cues to take note of that can lead to an autism diagnosis when paired with the characteristics mentioned above include:
- Impulsive or aggressive behavior: Some early childhood aggression is normal, but unprovoked outbursts can be cause for concern.
- Short attention span: Another cue that might be difficult to separate from normal childhood development (or even other disorders), but one that can be a key component to identify before an autism assessment.
- Unusual eating and sleeping habits: Any child will exhibit some reluctance to eat certain foods or may experience difficulty with sleep. Children with an autism diagnosis, however, will at times display this more often. If you believe your child is exhibiting irregular eating or sleeping patterns, document and contact a specialist as soon as possible.
- Lack of environmental or self-awareness: A child diagnosed with ASD may require more attention in certain safety situations.
Autism Treatment at Ally Pediatric Therapy
There are many characteristics of autism, and being aware of the most prevalent ones will help you get an accurate diagnosis of your child earlier. It is important to recognize how you can work constructively with your family, teachers, and specialists to improve their behavioral tendencies.
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, our mission is in the name: to assist children with autism and their families on the pathway to a better life. If you believe your child is exhibiting some of the common symptoms of autism, please reach out today. A diagnosis and treatment plan can make all the difference in the world, and we’d love to help.