Find Your Program is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

10 Symptoms of Autism

autism symptoms


Symptoms of autism are varied among individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While autism affects both children and adults, the signs of autism are usually noticeable by the time a child is between 14 and 18 months of age. Autism is a lifelong disability.

  • Developmental Learning Delays
  • Over or Under Sensitivity to Lights, Sounds, Touch, or Tastes
  • Difficulty Communicating
  • Repetitive Movements and Behaviors
  • Difficulty in Social Situations
  • Trouble with Transitions
  • Attachment to Unusual Interests
  • Difficulty Understanding Emotions
  • Recurring Sleep Problems
  • Insufficient Impulse Control

Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online

1. Developmental Learning Delays

People with autism have a high level of difficulty learning basic skill concepts, such as brushing their hair or following simple directions. A child with autism may not seem to understand what “hand me the book” means. Autistic children often seem to “forget” how do to things they once accomplished with little effort, such as how to use a cup or how to hold objects. They may stop speaking or interacting with others. They may no longer able to stand on their own without being supported. These changes may appear suddenly or over a period of time.

2. Over- or Under Sensitivity to Lights, Sounds, Touch, or Tastes

Bright lights and/or loud noises can provoke extreme overreactions. The brain’s ability to process incoming physical stimuli functions differently. As a result, autistic individuals often becoming easily overwhelmed. This informational onslaught can be frightening. On the other end of the spectrum, someone with autism may under-sensitive to their environment. They may be incapable of processing various stimuli and can appear immune to conditions that others would find intolerable. People with autism may not be able to tolerate sharp food taste and may prefer a bland diet. Autistic individuals may not be capable of tolerating touch well, due to an increase or decrease in skin sensitivity

3. Difficulty Communicating

By the time a child reaches 12-15 months old, they should be able to respond to simple commands such as nodding their head “yes” or “no” when asked a simple question. At this age, they should be making attempts to say words such as “mama” or “dada.” They may even begin to mimic small words they frequently hear such as “yay” or “uh-oh.” Children who display symptoms of autism may not speak or they may begin having longer periods of silence, in which they refuse to attempt to communicate with others, even people they love and trust.

4. Repetitive Movements and Behaviors

Repeating certain movements, such as purposely shaking the head, a leg or arm, making intentional facial expressions or pulling hair may be symptoms of autism. Repetitive behaviors are also common. If you notice that your child often exhibits certain repetitive behaviors that are not appropriately connected to the task they are performing or the environment they are in, you may want to mention the behavior patterns to their physician.

5. Difficulty in Social Situations

One of the more easily recognized symptoms of autism is having a difficult time socializing with others. Children and adults with autism tend to shut down when placed in a social environment. Individuals with autism are often mistakenly labeled as being “loners” or introverts. People that are “loners” prefer to spend time alone and enjoy their own company over the company of others. People living with autism do not know how to relate to others when they are placed in a situation that requires social interaction. The only way their brains can cope is to block out what is going on around them.

6. Trouble With Transitions

People with autism spectrum disorder usually have a set routine they must follow. Having an order of completing everyday tasks gives people with autism a calming comfort. A stable, self-regulated schedule helps appease an anxious mind. However, life is rarely predictable. Unexpected events can happen and ruin the normal routine. Small changes that throw off the schedule will upset autistic individuals. Big life transitions, such as starting school or graduating college, give people with autism extreme anxiety. Every change makes children and adults on the spectrum feel like they’re losing control. Sometimes, individuals experience a panic attack or meltdown when their schedule shifts. People with autism need to be talked through even minor changes to their repetitive routines.

7. Attachment to Unusual Interests

One of the easiest autism symptoms to detect is an intense interest in unusual objects or topics. Autism spectrum disorder often causes an almost obsession with certain items. For instance, an autistic individual might love trains, stamps, record players, bottle tops, or spoons. People with autism know what they like and don’t care if it seems “uncool.” People with autism are so passionate that they’ll devote vast amounts of time to their interests. Frequently, they become subject matter experts on topics they enjoy. Whether drawing, cooking, video games, or chemistry, autistic individuals spend endless amounts of energy practicing their hobby. Most children and adults with autism prefer doing these interests on their own. If it’s safe, people with autism shouldn’t be discouraged from their hobby.

8. Difficulty Understanding Emotions

autism symptoms

First of all, people with autism aren’t unemotional. Autistic children and adults have feelings like everyone else. They simply struggle with understanding and interpreting emotions. Autism spectrum disorder usually makes it hard to recognize emotions from facial and body language. People with ASD might not understand normal social cues like raised eyebrows and shrugs. Autistic individuals can’t detect emotions or sarcasm as easily from a person’s vocal tone. Noticing anger, fear, disgust, and surprise is typically the hardest. It’s common for people with ASD to misread the situation and react abnormally. Autism spectrum disorder causes difficulty in expressing one’s own emotions too.

9. Recurring Sleep Problems

According to Autism Speaks, nearly 80 percent of autistic children have a co-morbid chronic sleep disorder. Individuals with autism are twice as likely to experience insomnia regularly. People with ASD generally struggle with falling and staying asleep for eight hours each night. Unfortunately, lacking enough sleep can make other autism symptoms worse. Sleep-deprived people show more repetitive behaviors and more learning delays. What makes sleeping so difficult? Autism spectrum disorder increases the sensitivity to sounds and lights. Children and adults with ASD can awaken instantly at even the slightest noise. Autistic individuals also have anxious, hyperactive minds that are challenging to shut off for sleep. Clinicians often give people with autism melatonin drugs to sleep better.

10. Insufficient Impulse Control

Children and adults with ASD generally lack the skills to control their impulses. People with autism often act on their wants and desires without thinking things through first. They aren’t able to stop themselves from giving in to their impulses. Autistic youth may go against their parent’s or caregiver’s instructions and act how they wish. People with autism may grab items they like at stores. They might disrupt a conversation to speak or have an angry tantrum. They could leave an assigned work or school task to do what they like. Many individuals with ASD dislike sharing and take objects back immediately. Poor impulse control is one of the autism symptoms that ABA therapy works on.

Related Resource: Top 20 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extensive research has shown that the brains of autistic individuals appear to develop differently than their non-autistic peers. This difference in brain development is responsible for the challenges those with autism face. If you suspect your child may have symptoms of autism, contact your child’s physician. Help is available.