Autism Signs & Symptoms

What is Autism?

Understanding Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral difficulties. Young people with ASD will experience intellectual disabilities, challenges with motor coordination, and problems with attention. They are also at increased risk for a number of physical health issues, including seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, and sleep problems. Furthermore, those with ASD may interact, behave, and learn in different ways from most other people. The symptoms associated with autism vary greatly in severity, with autistic individuals classified on a spectrum from high functioning to low functioning. Currently there is no cure for ASD; however, early therapeutic interventions have shown the potential to improve a child’s development, thus allowing him or her to learn important skills and become as independent as possible.


Statistics on Autism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in every 68 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is diagnosed more often in boys than girls, affecting 1 in every 42 boys.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Autism

While no definite causes for the development of autism have been found there are a number of factors that are believed to play a significant role. Most researchers believe that genetic influences and environmental factors work together to lead to the development of this disorder. Consider the following:

Genetic: Multiple research studies strongly suggest that genes play a large role in whether or not a child or adolescent is likely to develop autism spectrum disorder. Young people who have relatives that have ASD have a genetic predisposition for the development of this disorder.

Environmental: Researchers believe that there are an assortment of environmental factors that place a child or adolescent at an increased risk for developing autism. For example, being exposed to certain infections while in utero, experiencing certain complications during birth, and being born prematurely can all place a young person at an increased risk for this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Advanced parental age
  • Fetal exposure to valproate
  • Disruptions of early brain development
  • Maternal illness during pregnancy
  • Low birth weight
  • Being born prematurely
  • Birthing complications
  • Certain health conditions, including Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, and cerebral palsy

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Autism

The symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder begin to become most apparent when a child is between 4 to 6 years old and has not met specific developmental milestones. Symptoms will vary in severity and each individual will have a unique presentation of symptoms. Examples of signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone has ASD can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Prefers to play alone
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Engages in repetitive behaviors
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Physically aggressive at times
  • Avoids or resists physical contacts
  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Flat or monotonous speech patterns
  • Uses few or no gestures
  • Does not pretend play
  • Engages in self-harming behaviors
  • Does not respond when being called
  • Does not understand personal space boundaries
  • Throws temper tantrums
  • Aggression

Physical symptoms:

  • Significant sleep problems
  • Unusual eating habits
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds
  • Hypersensitivity to touch
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Problems with coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Unable to understand social cues
  • Does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing
  • Is not able to understand other people’s feelings
  • Has difficulty understanding the actions of others
  • Develops a fixated interest in a certain subject or activity
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Short attention span

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Does not express emotions or feelings
  • Uncooperative
  • Does not like change
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of Autism

The long-term effects of autism spectrum disorder depend upon the severity of a child or adolescent’s symptoms as well as the type and effectiveness of any therapeutic interventions that the young person has received. If children and adolescents with autism do not get the treatment they need, they may develop one or more of the following:

  • Social isolation
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty developing and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships
  • Onset of mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • School failure
  • Unable to live independently
  • Requires support for activities of daily living


Autism and Co-Occurring Disorders

Many children and adolescents with autism also suffer from additional mental health disorders or conditions. The most common disorders known to co-occur with autism spectrum disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Seizure disorders

The communication skills that my son learned from SUWS and the way he is able to express and handle his emotions is so impressive

– Anonymous Parent