What Are the Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

autism spectrum disorder

There is no cure for autism, but treatment programs can improve the outlook for children. These programs focus on teaching basic skills in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities.

People with ASD often have trouble with social communication and interaction, or have restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. Behavioral therapy can help control challenging behavior, such as tantrums or aggression.


The cause of autism is not known, but it has been linked to changes in certain genes. These genes affect how brain nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with each other. Researchers continue to explore the causes of autism with an eye toward developing treatments and supports that can improve quality of life.

Some people with autism have a learning disability, making it harder for them to learn new things or do daily tasks. This means they need more help from others. Autism is also associated with medical conditions like digestive disorders (such as diarrhea, constipation and stomach pain) and self-injury (such as clapping or biting one’s fingers).

People with autism often have trouble understanding nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, body postures and tone of voice. They may also have difficulty recognizing how other people feel, including sarcasm and humor. They often have trouble expressing their own feelings or making and keeping friends.

Compared to other children their age, kids with autism are less likely to babble or make eye contact by 12 months. They also have a hard time following simple directions or answering questions. They may be easily distracted by noise or other people and have a hard time paying attention.

Many children with autism are more interested in repetitive movements, such as flapping the arms or twisting the body. These are called stimming. They can be a way to relieve anxiety, discomfort or pain. They can also be a way to avoid sensory overload. In some cases, stimming can become so severe that it interferes with daily activities or causes physical harm.

While researchers don’t know what causes autism, they do know that it runs in families. It can affect siblings in the same family. It’s also more common in boys than girls. It’s believed that the difference in rates is due to differences in genetic and environmental factors.

It’s important for parents to recognize the early signs of autism in their children. If they’re concerned, they should speak to their health care provider or a specialist in child development.


The first sign of autism is often difficulty communicating with other people. Affected children may not smile or react to vocal games, and they might not follow other people’s faces with their eyes. They might not understand facial expressions or body language, and they might struggle to make friends. Children with autism may develop limited or repetitive actions, such as rocking and hand-flapping, or speak in a sing-song voice and repeat words they have heard — a practice known as echolalia. They might be very rigid about their established routines and resist any changes in their schedule. They might have a hard time tolerating certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights.

Early signs of autism spectrum disorder usually appear during the first 1-2 years of life. If you think your child might have some of the early symptoms, talk to your doctor, child and family health nurse or pediatrician as soon as possible.

As children with autism grow up, their challenges continue to affect many aspects of their lives. They may have trouble forming friendships, and they might find it difficult to maintain jobs or live independently. Some have other mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. They might also develop medical conditions, such as stomach problems, sleep disorders and seizures.

Caring for a person with autism can be stressful, and caregivers should make sure to take care of themselves as well. It’s important to eat well and exercise, and to keep up with your hobbies and interests. It’s also a good idea to spend time with other family members and friends.

Adults with autism may have difficulty with social interactions, but they can learn to improve their communication skills. They might also benefit from behavioral therapy, which is designed to teach new skills and manage challenging behaviors. Some behavioral therapies use Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which involves teaching new behaviors and encouraging them to replace old ones.

Some adults with autism have trouble coping with the demands of daily living, and they might need help with activities such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills. They might also need help with personal hygiene and personal safety, or with getting around town.


A person with autism spectrum disorder experiences persistent challenges with social communication, verbal and nonverbal behavior, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. These problems begin in early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life. Parents/caregivers and teachers are often the first to notice these symptoms in children who attend school, especially if the child has trouble understanding subtle social cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. In older kids and adults, these people may have trouble understanding figures of speech like humor or sarcasm.

Autism symptoms can be mild, severe or somewhere in between. The earlier the disorder is identified and treatment begins, the better. For example, intensive behavioral therapies can help children with autism develop their language and social skills and reduce sensory issues like obsessive lining up items or preferring certain textures.

The first step to getting a diagnosis is talking with your child’s health care provider. Most pediatricians will look for developmental issues at routine checkups, but it’s important to bring up any concerns you have. Your doctor can recommend a specialist to assess your child’s progress and development. If your child is under 3 years old, a referral to a special education program might also be helpful.

A professional will ask you about your child’s history and how long the symptoms have been present. They will also want to know if other family members have autism. This can help doctors determine if there is a genetic link and whether certain medical conditions or high-risk factors might play a role.

Doctors will then classify your child based on the severity of their symptoms, as follows:


There is no cure for autism, but intensive, early treatment can make a big difference. Treatment focuses on changing behavior and teaching new skills. It also treats associated medical problems, like gastrointestinal issues, sleep disorders and seizures. Treatment continues throughout life.

The most effective behavioral therapies are based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA). They teach kids with ASD how to use their strengths to minimize the impact of their core symptoms. ABA helps kids develop language, social skills and behaviors that are more adaptive. These treatments should begin as soon as possible, because early treatment is linked to better long-term outcomes.

Treatments include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and psychopharmacology. Speech-language therapists help children learn to communicate more effectively by practicing skills such as making eye contact, understanding gestures, listening to tone of voice and interpreting humor and sarcasm. Occupational therapists can help with daily activities, such as getting dressed and bathing, and may train the family on how to best manage challenging behaviors. Psychologists and psychiatrists can help treat anxiety and depression, which often co-occur with ASD. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is one type of psychological approach that teaches people with ASD to change their thinking to improve their emotions and behaviors.

Researchers are studying many other treatments for ASD, but little is known about how well they work. Many of them involve limiting certain foods or supplements. It is important to talk with your health care providers and others you trust before trying these approaches. They can help you weigh the benefits and risks.

Medication can be helpful to reduce difficult behaviors and increase focus. It is important to work closely with your doctor and monitor side effects to be sure the medication is safe for you.

ASD is often linked to other conditions, such as gastrointestinal and feeding problems, seizures and sleep disturbances. These conditions can cause discomfort and interfere with learning. Treatments for these conditions usually involve medications and/or behavioral therapy. Your child’s healthcare provider will work with you and your other healthcare providers to address these problems.

Cascia Talbert is a Catholic mother of five special needs kids. In 2018 she published the book, "Taking Care of Your Family's Health and Well-Being, Saints to Turn to and the Catholic Faith," available anywhere books are sold. She is also a professional flutist and an Avon Independent Sales Representative. You can learn more about Cascia on the following websites, cjsfunandgames.com and avoncrystallake.com. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, children and Baby, the playful black kitty.

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