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The Most Common Signs of Autism

Explore the most common signs of autism, from social challenges to repetitive behaviors, and the importance of early detection.

Understanding Autism Signs

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by challenges with social communication, social interaction, and the presence of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Understanding the most common signs of autism can aid in early diagnosis and intervention, potentially leading to improved outcomes for those with the disorder.

Overview of Autism Signs

The most common signs of autism typically revolve around social communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. These signs can manifest in a variety of ways, varying in severity and combination from person to person.

Some of the common signs of autism include:

  • Challenges with social communication: This may include difficulty understanding and using language, nonverbal cues, and conversation skills.
  • Difficulties with social interaction: Individuals with autism may struggle with developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests: This can involve repetitive speech or movements, rigid adherence to routines, and intense interests in specific topics.

Early Signs in Toddlers

In toddlers, these common signs of autism may present as challenges with social communication and interaction, as well as the presence of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.

For example, early signs of autism in toddlers may include:

  • Limited or no response to their name
  • Little pointing or gesturing
  • Reduced eye contact
  • Lack of interest in others or in sharing interests or achievements
  • Delays in language development, such as not saying single words by 16 months
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as flapping hands, rocking, or spinning
  • Resistance to changes in routine or environment
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, or colors

These early signs can be observed in babies as young as 2 months old. However, signs of autism in babies may not be easily recognizable until the child is between 18 and 22 months of age.

It's important to note that while these signs can indicate autism, they do not confirm a diagnosis. If you notice these signs in your child, consult with a healthcare provider to discuss your concerns and explore the possibility of an autism screening. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a significant difference in the life of a child with autism.

Social Communication Challenges

One of the most common signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is social communication challenges. ASD often impacts an individual's ability to interact and communicate effectively with others, leading to difficulties in joint attention and language development. Let's explore these two key aspects in detail.

Importance of Joint Attention

Joint attention, the ability to share focus on an object or event with another person, is a crucial developmental milestone. It involves shifting gaze between an object and another person, indicating shared interest or excitement. Children with ASD often exhibit delayed or absent social communication skills at various stages of joint attention compared to neurotypical children.

Most children point at objects they find interesting by 18 months of age and will look back and forth between an object and a parent to ensure shared attention. In contrast, children on the autism spectrum may point to an object not for shared enjoyment but because they want the parent to retrieve it for them.

Delayed Language Development

A common characteristic of ASD is delayed language development, which affects both nonverbal communication and spoken language. Children on the autism spectrum may have fewer words and use gestures less frequently compared to their peers.

Specifically, children with ASD may have words to label things but not use them to make requests. They might repeat what they hear for longer periods than typical or develop language that resembles adult speech rather than toddler speech.

Moreover, young children with ASD typically understand and use fewer words at 12 months compared to children with nonautistic development. Delayed language skills, such as not saying single words by 16 months, can be a sign of autism.

Understanding these social communication challenges can be crucial in the early detection of ASD. Recognizing the signs and seeking professional help at an early stage can improve a child's development and quality of life.

Repetitive Behaviors & Interests

As we delve into the most common signs of autism, it's crucial to discuss the prevalence of repetitive behaviors and interests in individuals with autism. This symptom, often referred to as stereotypy, is one of the defining characteristics of the condition.

Stereotyped Behaviors

Stereotyped behaviors, or stereotypy, are defined as repetitive movements or ritualistic behavior that can be exhibited verbally or non-verbally, fine or gross motor oriented, and can vary from person to person. Examples include repeating words or physical actions like flicking or pacing [6].

These behaviors, as described in the DSM-5, are often purposeless, obsessive, highly selective, and unwavering, and they can vary significantly from person to person. Autistic individuals may engage in repetitive behaviors such as saying or talking about the same things repeatedly, reciting scripts from TV shows, or asking the same question multiple times. Physical actions like repetitive rocking, flicking, or pacing can also be observed, and in severe cases, behaviors like head-banging can occur. The intensity and frequency of these behaviors may increase during times of stress, anxiety, or distress.

When asked to change routines, autistic individuals may exhibit exaggerated responses such as overwhelming anxiety or anger. Stereotypy behaviors like rocking back and forth, rapidly opening and closing doors, or shaking the head repetitively can be indicators of autism when compared with neurotypical peers [7].

Impact on Daily Life

The manifestation of these restricted and repetitive behaviors can have varying impacts on the daily lives of autistic individuals, ranging from mild to severe. They can negatively impact communication, engagement with the environment, education, and skill development. However, they can also be beneficial in certain contexts, such as developing passionate interests that may lead to relationships or careers [6].

While for some autistic individuals, these repetitive behaviors are not problematic and may even be a positive factor, for many others, these behaviors can be disruptive. They can hinder communication and engagement with the world, causing significant challenges in their daily lives.

Understanding and responding appropriately to these behaviors is a crucial part of supporting individuals with autism. Through awareness, early detection, and suitable intervention programs, it's possible to help autistic individuals navigate the challenges presented by these behaviors and lead fulfilling lives.

Early Detection & Intervention

Recognizing the most common signs of autism as early as possible is crucial to ensure appropriate interventions and support. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the quality of life of children with autism and their families.

Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Research shows that early diagnosis of and interventions for autism are more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can sometimes be diagnosed in children before they are 2 years of age.

Early diagnosis enables customized interventions to be implemented at a young age, when children's brains are still highly plastic and responsive to learning. This early start gives children the best chance of developing to their full potential. Importantly, many children who later no longer meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder share a common factor: they all received early intervention services.

Early Intervention Programs

Early intervention programs are designed to address the specific needs of children with autism, focusing on improving their social, cognitive, and communication skills. These interventions often occur at or before preschool age, as early as 2 or 3 years of age [8].

Such programs help children gain basic skills that they usually learn in the first 2 years of life. They focus on key areas such as speech and language, motor skills, social and emotional skills, and cognitive skills. The goal of these programs is to enhance the child's development and minimize the impact of autism on their daily life.

One example of an early intervention program is the one studied by Autism Speaks. They conducted a study on an intensive early intervention program for very young children with autism, some as young as 18 months. The study found significant improvements in IQ, language ability, and social interaction among the participants [9].

In conclusion, early detection and intervention can significantly improve the outcomes for children with autism. It's important for parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to be aware of the most common signs of autism and to seek help as soon as possible if they suspect a child may be on the autism spectrum.

Variability in Autism Signs

The most common signs of autism can vary widely among individuals and may appear at different stages of development. It's essential to understand these variations to ensure timely recognition and intervention.

Signs in Babies

Signs of autism in babies may not be easily recognizable until the child is between 18 and 22 months of age, although some signs may be observed before the age of 1 [4]. A baby's development rate markedly different from others of the same age could be a sign of autism, although various factors can influence a child's development.

Common signs and characteristics of autism in babies (6 months to one year) include:

  • Not responding to their name by 12 months.
  • Not babbling or cooing by 12 months.
  • Not using gestures, such as pointing or waving, by 12 months.
  • Loss of social skills, speech, or babbling at any age.

These signs can provide early indications of autism, but they are not definitive. It's essential to consult a healthcare professional if a baby displays any of these signs or is developing at a different pace than their peers.

Signs in Toddlers & Older Children

For toddlers up to 24 months, early signs of autism may manifest differently, including characteristics that could suggest the child is on the autism spectrum [4].

Common signs and characteristics in toddlers and older children include:

  • Delayed language development.
  • Repetition of words or phrases (echolalia).
  • Unusual focus on parts of toys, such as the wheels of a car.
  • Lack of interest in peer play and social interaction.

Moreover, children on the autism spectrum usually sit, crawl, and walk on time, but may show delays in spoken language or differences in how they interact with peers, as well as in the development of gestures, pretend play, and social language, often going unnoticed by families and doctors.

Once again, these signs alone are not definitive evidence of autism. Healthcare professionals utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to evaluate and diagnose autism, which involves observing an individual's behavior and traits to determine the appropriate support needed [10].

Understanding the variability in the most common signs of autism can help in the early detection and provision of appropriate support for individuals on the autism spectrum.












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