Last week, we briefly covered what autism is, the challenges of a diagnosis, and treatment options. This week, we are going to cover the most common signs of autism and the variations of symptoms by age.
Not everyone with autism has the same severity of symptoms, and many people experience different symptoms. The most recognized symptoms of autism include communication and social difficulties, repetitive actions or behaviors, fixated interests, resistance to change, and sensory sensitivities. It is also important to keep in mind that if someone exhibits any of these signs, it does not necessarily mean they have autism, as some of these symptoms could be signs of another disorder or disease. It is crucial to be evaluated by a medical professional to receive an official diagnosis if you suspect autism.
Symptoms of autism vary by age because autism is a developmental disorder, and its impact on an individual’s behavior and abilities changes as they grow and develop. Several factors contribute to this variation in symptoms across different age groups.
Signs of autism in infants:
- Lack of Eye Contact: Infants with autism may avoid making eye contact with caregivers, which is typically a common behavior for infants who are developing social skills.
- Limited Social Interaction: They may show limited interest in engaging with others, including a lack of responsiveness to smiles, vocalizations, or attempts at interaction from caregivers.
- Delayed or Absent Babbling: A notable symptom in infants with autism is a delay or absence of babbling, such as not cooing, gurgling, or making other typical vocalizations.
- Repetitive Movements: Some infants with autism may exhibit repetitive movements or behaviors, such as hand-flapping or body rocking.
Signs of autism in toddlers:
- Communication Challenges: Toddlers with autism may have significant delays in language development or may not speak at all by 16 months. These are typical communication milestones in toddlers.
- Social Difficulties: Toddlers with autism often struggle with social interactions, including difficulty responding to their own name, lack of interest in playing with peers, and limited eye contact.
- Sensory Sensitivities: Many toddlers with autism exhibit sensory sensitivities, such as being overly sensitive or under-sensitive to certain textures, sounds, or smells.
- Repetitive Behaviors: Repetitive behaviors and interests become more apparent, including the tendency to engage in repetitive play or fixate on specific objects or topics.
Signs of autism in children:
- Limited Social Engagement: Children with autism often have difficulty engaging with others outside of their immediate family, making it challenging for them to form friendships or interact with peers.
- Communication Challenges Persist: Communication difficulties persist, including difficulty speaking clearly, limited use of gestures, and trouble understanding non-verbal cues.
- Rigidity and Routine: They may adhere strictly to routines and become upset by even minor changes in their daily schedule or environment.
- Repetitive Speech and Actions: Repetitive speech patterns (echolalia) and repetitive actions or movements continue to be prominent features of autism in children.
Signs of autism in teenagers and adults:
- Social Difficulties: Adolescents and adults with autism often struggle to create and maintain meaningful friendships, have difficulty empathizing with others, and may have challenges with recognizing and expressing emotions.
- Rigid Routines: They tend to follow rigid daily routines and may become distressed if these routines are disrupted.
- Special Interests: Many individuals with autism maintain intense interests in specific topics or subjects, often to an extreme degree, which can dominate their conversations and activities.
- Communication Challenges Persist: Difficulties in making eye contact, engaging in small talk, and repeating the same words or actions are characteristic of autism in adults and teenagers. Anxiety, stress, and depression can also be common co-occurring issues.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of autism is a crucial step toward early intervention and finding the right support. Autism is a complex and multifaceted condition, and while we’ve outlined some common signs for different age groups, it’s important to remember that individuals with autism can have varying degrees of symptom severity and presentation. These signs should serve as a guide rather than a definitive diagnosis. Seeking professional evaluation and diagnosis is paramount if you suspect autism in yourself or a loved one. With early intervention and support, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives, and society can become more inclusive and understanding of neurodiversity. Awareness, acceptance, and access to resources are key in ensuring a brighter future for those on the autism spectrum.
Contact our autism experts to learn more. As a Behavioral Health Center of Excellence®, we provide a holistic approach to ABA therapy that supports families as well as children, including being their insurance advocate.
A brighter future is possible with ABA therapy from The Behavior Exchange!