Autism is a developmental disability that causes challenges with behavior as well as social and communication delays. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) explains autism spectrum disorder and the criteria that an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed with autism. People with autism have (a) challenges in social communication and interaction in multiple environments, and (b) limited and recurring patterns of behaviors, activities, or interests. These symptoms start in early childhood, can be present earlier than 12 months or later than 24 months and impair daily functioning. Here are some examples of what a child or adult with autism might or might not show:
Social / Communication Skills
- A child might not point at objects or activities that they are interested in (for example, not point at a swing on the playground to show that they want to play on the swing). A child might not show or bring objects of interest to others (for example, not show a picture they’ve painted). When another person points to an object, the child might not look at or toward that object.
- May not be able to speak, only speak a few words, or may repeat words heard from others.
- Difficulty starting a conversation or joining in.
- Trouble with sharing thoughts and feelings or understanding other’s thoughts and feelings.
- Might not look at people or prefer to be alone.
- Might want to have friends, but not know how to play or talk with others.
- Might not imitate peers or be able to pretend play (for example, pretend to talk on the phone or pretend to brush a doll’s hair).
- Might play with toys in uncommon ways (for example, might line up toys or shuffle balls in the air) or repeat actions over and over (for example, hand flap, body rock, or toe walk).
- Might struggle with routines (for example, want to drive the same route to and from school or eat the same food every day) or have verbal behaviors that are inflexible (for example, repetitive questions).
- Might focus on parts of objects or have an excessive interest with objects or interests (for example, looking at the spinning wheel of a bicycle or exclusively collecting information about trains, train routes, or train signals).
- Might react to what they hear, see, taste, or touch in uncommon ways (for example, repetitive smelling of hair, extreme fascination with lights, high tolerance for pain, or intense fear of the sound of a blender).
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013. American Psychiatric AssociationLearn the Signs. Act Early. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s development. If you believe that your child has a delay, ask for a referral to a developmental pediatrician or a child psychologist. These are specialists who can evaluate your child to see if early intervention services might be important. Your local Regional Center can also assist with an evaluation.