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Autism Center

Autism Symptoms

Early symptoms of autism
Symptoms of autism usually manifest before the age of 3, but may be difficult to identify.  The severity of symptom(s), for example, may not be noticed until a few years into childhood. Parents, teachers, doctors, etc. may observe child development as "slow", but do not suspect autism.  Or, a child can progress normally and then begin an abrupt change in development and behavior (losing language and other skills).

Symptoms of autism
The main symptoms of autism involve communication (verbal and non-verbal); repetitive behavior; and social difficulties, and begin to manifest by 18 months of age.  Other symptoms of autism may involve sensory problems, and symptoms of additional disorders.  Symptoms of autism can range from mild to severe.  And different autism symptoms are accompanied by different levels of intensity. 

Communicative symptoms of autism
Children with difficulties developing language skills from autism may be unable to communicate until as late as age 9.  As a result of difficulties in expression, autistic children may get angry, upset, anxious, and depressed, especially when they realize that they cannot understand others and communicate effectively to other people.  For example, autistic children may simply take whatever they want, rather than make a request, because a request is beyond their capabilities.  The most common communicative symptoms of autism include:

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    • Inability to begin a conversation, or to continue conversation
    • Lack of eye contact when asking for things
    • Regression or loss of ability to form sentences or words that were previously learned
    • Repeating, or 'parroting' the words of other
    • Repetition of words or phrases
    • Talking at a later stage than normally expected for a child of the same age
    • Unusual tone of voice (high-pitch and song-like or robotic, flat tones)

Repetitive symptoms of autism
Repetitive symptoms of autism generally include the creation and maintenance of an orderly world, via schedules, routines, or with physical objects.  This may be an attempt to provide some structure and patterns to the world for an autistic person.  Other symptoms related to repetitive behavior may also include motions and movements.  Repetitive symptoms of autism include:    

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    • Extreme upset or anxiety over disturbances in life schedules, or disruption of routines
    • Extreme amount of time spent in creating or maintaining order, whether in life schedules (e.g. eating, sleeping, etc.) or with physical things (e.g. spending hours on lining up pencils or other objects, and not playing with these objects)
    • Significant interest and focus of attention on a particular subject (e.g. bus schedules; baseball player statistics, etc.) especially those that are number-, science-, or symbol-oriented
    • Sudden, unexpected 'freezing' of body movement

Social symptoms of autism
Social development begins from infancy as children react and respond to others around them by cooing, smiling, and/or watching other people.  Children who exhibit social symptoms of autism may appear disconnected from the normal social behaviors and may refuse or appear uninterested in cuddling and playing with parents.  Additionally, autistic children may appear especially upset when they are in stressful or unfamiliar settings, and may react by acting violent towards themselves, others, or may try to break things.  Or, they may simply cry or yell.  Children with social symptoms of autism may be unable to understand others' emotions and feelings.  This can be extremely frustrating to parents, when normal parental instincts of playing and cuddling with a newborn are denied, resisted, or rejected.  Social symptoms of autism include:

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    • Not responding to his/her name
    • Poor eye contact in general (and, also when asking for things)
    • Preference for remaining alone
    • Strong disinterest in making contact with others: may actively avoid normal parent-child contact, or may passively accept some parent-child contact
    • Unaware of other people's feelings

When to seek help
Parents can mistake autistic behavior for merely slow, but normal development.  How do you know when to seek medical advice?  For one, meet with your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.  Additionally, see your doctor if you notice the following:

  • Your child's language and social skills regress or are lost at any age.
  • Your child does not make baby noises, such as cooing, etc. by 12 months.
  • Your child does not use his/her hands to communicate by 12 months.
  • Your child does not use one word phrases by 16 months.
  • Your child does not use two word phrases by 24 months.

Any of these particular symptoms is strong enough to see your doctor.  With your doctor's diagnosis, you can begin treatment as soon as possible, which-in general-allows for the best progress to be made.  To learn more about how your doctor will make a diagnosis via an autism test, read here for additional information.

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