What Are the Symptoms of Autism?

asian boy laying on floor with autism puzzle

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Symptoms of Autism: How to Identify the Early Signs of Autism

Understanding the symptoms and early signs of autism is important if you are looking for a diagnosis for yourself or your child.

You may already be aware of some symptoms, but there are many behaviors and traits to be aware of.

Autism can be diagnosed at any point in life; some people may even go their entire lives undiagnosed. However, diagnosis can be very helpful if you or your child have autism. Autism isn’t uncommon. It is believed that around 1 in 100 people is on the autism spectrum.

The good news is that autism is identifiable at a young age, and the symptoms may improve throughout life. With intervention, many children can thrive and become successful adults. Sometimes autism can be difficult to spot, especially in females. Autism isn’t based on physical appearance, and there are no medical tests that can identify it. Instead, diagnosis is made using screening tools that identify behavior patterns and analyze social skills.

Zinnia Health uses the ADOS screening tool to help identify symptoms and early signs of autism and provide parents or individuals with a diagnosis.

Get in touch for more information.

What Is Autism (ASD)?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can affect many parts of a person’s life. Its symptoms usually involve behavior, communication, and social skills. For example, people with autism can find it difficult to communicate with others and read social situations. They may also display repetitive behaviors, develop obsessive interests, and prefer to spend time alone.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that people with autism can display different symptoms. Some people may only experience mild symptoms, while others may need ongoing support and intervention. Some people with autism can have very advanced communication skills, while others may be nonverbal.

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, some people with autism may go undiagnosed. This is especially the case if their symptoms are very mild and they have found their own coping mechanisms. In these instances, parents often miss the early signs of autism in childhood. 

Autism can look different for each person who has it. Still, there are some common traits and behaviors that most people with autism will display. It is these that often form the basis of a diagnosis.

Autism symptoms can display in a range of ways. Some people with autism may repeat certain phrases that they’ve heard, for example, or sing when they talk to other people. Another common challenge is the ability to understand abstract concepts. For example, people with autism may take things “literally” or not understand sarcasm. It can be difficult for someone with autism to decipher the tone of voice or understand body language.

There are many symptoms and early signs of autism to look out for that affect different areas of life.

Ways to Identify Autism

1. Monitoring Development Milestones

Identifying autism in childhood can give the individual the best chance of getting the help they need as soon as possible.

Early signs of autism often appear in childhood (usually in the first two years). It is during this time that a child is screened for developmental milestones.

These milestones can be indicators that a child is developing as expected. Many people with autism will not hit these milestones at the same time as others. For example, they may not start walking or talking until much later than other babies/toddlers of a similar age.

Some children display early signs of autism by around 12 months of age. Others may begin to show these signs later, at around 2 years of age. In other cases, children with autism may reach milestones but begin to plateau at around 18-24 months or lose skills they have learned.

2. Monitoring Behavior Patterns

Behavior patterns can be a significant indicator that a child or adult has autism.

Many people with autism struggle with change and often live their lives on strict routines. Changes to routines can be very distressing to someone with autism. As the world can be a confusing place, having particular patterns and routines can make it feel more comfortable.

Some people with autism may travel specific routes, wear the same clothes each day, or eat the same meals. They may also only watch a certain TV show or listen to the same music repeatedly.

Small changes to routines that may seem insignificant to other people can trigger a range of emotions for someone with autism. They may feel very anxious when experiencing a change and be unable to calm down.

As well as repetitive behaviors, many people with autism also display repetitive movements (another of the early signs of autism).

For example, they might tap on a table, flap their hands, or rock from side to side. Others may open and close doors repetitively or find it difficult to stand still. These behaviors are often coping mechanisms and a reaction to stress or anxiety. They may act to calm the individual, but some people with autism may display these behaviors simply because they enjoy them.

What Are Common Early Signs of Autism?

Identifying the signs and symptoms of autism in childhood is very useful in getting the child the help they need.

Some common early signs of autism that children may display include:

  • Not responding when their name is called by the time they reach 9 months old. A child with autism may react to other noises but seem to ignore you when you call their name.
  • Avoiding eye contact or struggling to keep it. They may look away when you make eye contact with them.
  • Not appearing to have different facial expressions for different emotions by 9 months old. They may have the same facial expression when they are sad, angry, or happy.
  • Not playing simple games that require interaction by 12 months old, for example, pat-a-cake.
  • Not using gestures, such as waving or giving “high fives” by 12 months old.
  • Showing a lack of interest in things and not sharing interests with others by the age of 15 months. For example, not showing toys that they like to others.
  • Not responding to pointing or not pointing to objects themselves.
  • Seemingly unaware of the emotions of others by the age of 2. For example, not realizing someone is hurt or sad or simply seeming disinterested by this.
  • Not engaging in imaginative play by the time they reach 30 months old. For example, not pretending to make food in a play kitchen or feed dolls.
  • Seeming disinterested in other children and preferring to play or spend time alone.
  • Not playing games that involve sharing or taking turns by the age of 5.
  • Having difficulty understanding the feelings of others or talking about their own feelings by the age of 3.
  • Lining up toys or categorizing items, especially when someone changes the order of them.
  • Focusing on certain parts of an object or toy. For example, the wheels of a toy car.
  • Playing with certain toys in exactly the same way each time.
  • Becoming obsessed with certain objects or toys.

What Are Further Early Signs of Autism?

A child with autism may also display other signs that do not necessarily relate to their behavior. These include abnormal sleeping and eating habits, constipation, and irrational fear or lack of fear in the face of danger, stress, and worry. Not all children will display the early signs of autism listed above, and some may also display other signs that are not listed.

If you are concerned about your child, seeking advice from professionals with access to diagnostic tools is recommended.

Social and Communication Issues

Many people with autism can find socializing with others extremely difficult. This can be the case in infancy and in adulthood.

Struggling to understand language, tone, and the complexities of communication can make it tough to relate to others. As such, many people with autism will have small friend circles, often involving other people with autism. Some people with autism may talk in unusual ways, which can make social interactions and maintaining friendships challenging.

Some people with autism will also repeat what is said to them by others. This is referred to as echolalia and isn’t restricted to conversation alone.

For example, someone with autism may repeat phrases they have heard on a TV show or on the radio in a seemingly nonsensical manner. The reasons behind this behavior can vary. For some people, it is a way to express disinterest or discomfort. For other people, it may be an attempt at starting a conversation.

Reactions as Early Signs of Autism

Reactions can be a good indicator that someone has autism. People with autism often react in certain ways to different stimuli, such as smells, tastes, touch, or sounds. Many people with autism are hypersensitive to sounds, smells, and lights and can react very strongly to them. For example, they may need to cover their ears in noisy environments, either with their hands, headphones, or earmuffs. They may also struggle when there are lots of flashing lights.

The way someone with autism reacts can seem exaggerated, but it is often their way of expressing intense discomfort. For example, they may run away, cover their ears, hit people, shout, or close their eyes.

What Are the Benefits of Early Diagnosis?

Early diagnosis can be very beneficial and enhance the life quality of a person with autism, which is why knowing the early signs of autism is so important. A diagnosis leads to treatment options becoming available. Diagnosis in childhood can also make educational settings more manageable for someone with autism. Schools can arrange interventions and extra support to give the child the help they need to progress. 

Early diagnosis can also benefit parents and family members. Not only does it give a better understanding of the complexities that the child faces, but it also opens doors to support and resources. This means that quality of life can be enhanced for the family as well as the child. Learning how to live with a child with autism is important and so is accessing learning resources and support.

Diagnosis in childhood can reduce the stress and difficulties a child faces as they grow. It may also reduce their chances of developing further issues and psychiatric illnesses. Autism is a lifelong disorder, so identifying it early can lead to an easier and more fulfilling life for your child.

A child who receives treatment earlier may find it easier to develop social skills. Therapy treatments can help to teach children how to manage their behaviors and practice in areas they find challenging.

More About Autism

Although knowing the early signs of autism can help identify autism in children, signs can display at any age. Missing developmental milestones is a good indicator in children, but adults can display common signs too. 

Many adults with autism also struggle with communication and auditory processing. They may feel overwhelmed in certain situations, experience meltdowns and extreme anxiety.

Although symptoms can improve as someone ages, many adults will still experience similar symptoms throughout their lives. This can include finding it difficult to understand the way others communicate or express themselves. Eye contact is something that people with autism find tough at all ages and is another of the early signs of autism. Following strict routines and struggling with changes in these can also be a common symptom for adults with autism.

It’s essential to remember that as autism is a spectrum, the symptoms that an adult can experience can vary depending on the individual. Some adults can go undiagnosed for a long period, especially if their symptoms are mild and less visible.  

Moving Forward

If you think you or your child may have autism or are displaying early signs of autism, getting a diagnosis can be life-changing. At Zinnia Health, our clinicians use the ADOS screening tool to identify signs and behaviors relating to autism. Diagnosis can help you to access important resources that can enhance the quality of life for people with autism.

Call us today at (866) 535-1116 for more information about how we can help you.