Autism’s core symptoms are
- social communication challenges and
- restricted, repetitive behaviors.
In autism, these symptoms
- begin in early childhood (though they may go unrecognized)
- persist and
- interfere with daily living.
Specialized healthcare providers diagnose autism using a checklist of criteria in the two categories above. They also assess symptomseverity. Autism’s severity scale reflects how much support a person needs for daily function.
Many people with autism have sensory issues. These typically involve over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli.
Autism is also associated with high rates of certain physical and mental health conditions.
Social communication challenges
Children and adults with autism have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, they may not understand or appropriately use:
- Spoken language (around a third of people with autism are nonverbal)
- Eye contact
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
- Expressions not meant to be taken literally
Additional social challenges can include difficulty with:
- Recognizing emotions and intentions in others
- Recognizing one’s own emotions
- Expressing emotions
- Seeking emotional comfort from others
- Feeling overwhelmed in social situations
- Taking turns in conversation
- Gauging personal space (appropriate distance between people)
Restricted and repetitive behaviors
Restricted and repetitive behaviors vary greatly across the autism spectrum. They can include:
- Repetitive body movements (e.g. rocking, flapping, spinning, running back and forth)
- Repetitive motions with objects (e.g. spinning wheels, shaking sticks, flipping levers)
- Staring at lights or spinning objects
- Ritualistic behaviors (e.g. lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a set order)
- Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
- Need for unvarying routine/resistance to change (e.g. same daily schedule, meal menu, clothes, route to school)