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Signs and Symptoms of Autism in Children

Updated on August 12, 2017

Autism is a developmental disorder condition which belongs to a group of neurological and developmental disorders called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These disorders normally begin during the early years of childhood. As there is no cure available, ASD usually lasts in a person’s life. Currently, there are only various treatments that are administered in trying to lessen the effects of ASD.

People exhibiting ASD have a myriad of symptoms the reason why it is called spectrum. The symptoms may be mild or severe. If the symptoms are severe the person will be critically disabled while a person exhibiting mild symptoms may be slightly impaired.

SCA baby brand Drypers supporting The National Autism Society of Malaysia
SCA baby brand Drypers supporting The National Autism Society of Malaysia | Source

This article will list the signs you need to watch out in order to know if your child or person has ASD. Not all people who are diagnosed with ASD display all the signs. Some may show some while others may exhibit all of them. As such, it is important for parents to watch out for the signs which might indicate his/her child has ASD.

There are two major types of behaviors people with ASD manifest: repetitive and social. Repetitive behaviors are things which a person diagnosed with ASD keeps on doing very often. For example, the person may repeat a sentence several times. Social behavior may include the difficulty in interacting socially or maintaining eye contact during a conversation.

The Web Dictionary defines autism as “a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.” defines it as “psychiatry, a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment: now considered one of autism spectrum disorders.”

Causes of Autism

Scientists don’t the causes of autism however studies are still underway in an effort to understand what causes autism.

As studies haven’t yet found out the causes of autism, scientists have been able to identify factors which have contributed in the creation of this disorder.

Lance Neilson
Lance Neilson | Source

Risk Factors

The following factors are thought by scientists to contribute to the development of ASD.

Genetic Factors

Studies appear to strongly indicate children are more vulnerable in developing autism by inheriting it from their parents. Scientists are trying to find out which genes are responsible for contributing to this increased susceptibility.

Several cases have been recorded which shows ASD tends to run in families. It is common to find identical twins diagnosed with ASD although one will be more affected than the other.

As researchers haven’t yet been able to identify particular genes linked to ASD also there are no tests which can screen for ASD genes.

Autism Myth #5
Autism Myth #5 | Source

Psychological Factors

Scientists who base their findings on psychological factors believe it has to do with Theory of Mind (TOM). NHS explicitly explain TOM as “a person’s ability to understand other people’s mental states, recognizing that each person they met has their own set of intentions, beliefs, emotions, likes and dislikes. To put it simply, it’s seeing the world through another person’s eyes.”

Scientists believe children with ASD have a full understanding of the Theory of Mind when they reach at the age of four. However, children without ASD either have limited or no understanding at all of the Theory of Mind.

Other risk factors which researchers believe contribute to the development of ASD are:

  • The gender of the child. In the studies that have been conducted boys are more prone in being diagnosed with ASD than girls.
  • If the child’s parents are older the child is likely to develop ASD. If the mother is over 35 years old or the father is over 40 years.

Environmental Factors

Researchers believe a person is born with vulnerability to ASD however the condition will develop only if that person is opposed to a specific environmental trigger.

The environmental factors that increase the vulnerability of developing ASD include: environmental toxins, premature birth, exposure to certain medications and alcohol.

Nonetheless, NHS notes “No conclusive evidence has been found linking pollution or maternal infections in pregnancy with an increased risk of ASD.”

Neurological Factors

Researchers believe neurological factors also play a role in a person developing ASD. This is whereby the connection between parts of brains (e.g. cerebral cortex) and the limbic system may have become knotted or as put by NHS, “over connected.”

The scramble between parts of brain and limbic system may lead to a person experiencing an emotional response either to an object or event that is unimportant. Scientists believe this may be the reason why people with ASD love routines.

It may also act as the reason as to why children with ASD are usually interested in topics which most children find boring or disinterested.


Warning Signs

People are in a good position to note whether their children exhibit autism as they are conversant with their children’s behaviors. Parents and doctors are able to identify if a child is autistic early on when the child is still an infant or toddler. At school, teachers can notice a child is autistic when the child is no longer an infant or toddler, for example, a five-year old child.

Children can develop autism as early as eighteen months. As noted by Help Guide, “The younger your child, the greater the impact of treatment on symptoms of autism. But no matter your child’s age, don’t lose hope. Treatment can reduce the disorder’s effects and help your child learn, grow, and thrive.”

Signs of autism can be detected during the first two years of a child. It is difficult to recognize or diagnose a child with autism during infancy – when the child is in the womb - even though autism can develop when the child is still in the infancy stage.


Some children may exhibit some while others may manifest all of the following signs.

  • The child does not wave his hand or point at something or somebody by the age of 12 months.
  • The child is unable to use or maintain eye contact.
  • When called, the child does not constantly respond.
  • The child cannot smile unless smiled at or tickled.
  • Unless the child imitates someone waving or using gestures, on his own he is unable to use gestures.
  • At the age of 12 months the child is unable to coo or babble.
  • The child shows no interest for other children.
  • At the age of 16 months the child finds it difficult to utter single words.
  • When she babbles or coos it appears she is not using the babbling or cooing to converse with someone.
  • If you use simple one-sentence instructions, she does not understand what you mean, for example, “Show me the cat.”
  • She imitates what others say or what she hears from television or radio, for example, she might hear, “Bring me a soda to drink.” She will repeat the last words, “Soda to drink.”


Characteristics of Children Exhibiting Autism Disorder

Symptoms of autism manifest themselves before the child hits his/her third birthday, i.e. 3 years. The symptoms continue throughout the child’s life to adult age. The symptoms vary from one child to another and can be mild or severe. This is the reason why autism is among the neurological and developmental disorders called autism spectrum disorders. The world ‘spectrum’ signifies each child is affected differently by this condition.


Children with autism may manifest some or all of the following symptoms.

  • Repeated body movements or certain behavior patterns which are repetitive such as head banging and spinning.
  • They maintain little or no contact at all.
  • They prefer to be alone or are over-friendly.
  • They have a problem in maintaining friendships.
  • They prefer company of r children who are either younger than them or older than them.
  • They lack sympathy – unable to understand what the other person is feeling.
  • They find it initiating a conversation o carrying a conversation through, i.e. maintaining a conversation.
  • They repeat a sentence or phrase they have heard over and over again.
  • They concentrate their attention on a part of something or their perspective is limited to a part instead of the whole of the thing, for instance, concentrating on the wheels of a toy car instead of the car as a whole.
  • They always want things to be as it has always been. A change in routine will not go well with them. They stick to the same routine they have been used to.
  • They preoccupy themselves with specific topics neglecting other topics, issues or subjects which are of importance.

Autism children may begin talking at the same age as other children without autism but then lose his language skills – unable to talk. In other cases a child with autism may not hear what you are telling him but be able to hear a distant sound.

Despite the challenges children diagnosed with ASD face, they remarkably show strengths in other aspects of their beings.

  • Their intelligence is above average.
  • They are good in arts, science and mathematics subjects.
  • They make good use of their eyes and ears. They are good auditory and visual learners.
  • They are able to recall information for a lengthy period of time. They don’t forget easily.
  • They learn something in detail – in depth.

Lastly, “With early and intensive treatment, most children improve their ability to relate to others, communicate, and help themselves as they grow older. Contrary to popular myths about children with autism, very few are completely socially isolated or “live” in a world of their own.” (WebMD).

In conclusion: "Autism literally means “aloneness,” or living in one’s own world. In severe cases, young children may not interact with others, or treat people as objects. In milder cases it involves difficulty understanding and relating to others, and difficulty understanding other people’s perspectives and emotions.

Left untreated, many autistic children will not develop effective social skills and may not learn to talk or behave appropriately. Very few individuals recover completely from autism without any intervention. The good news is that there are a wide variety of treatment options which can be very helpful. Some treatments may lead to great improvement, whereas other treatments may have little or no effect. No treatment helps everyone."(Autism Research Institute)

Additional Information

The following are reliable links to everything you need to learn about autism including various treatments. (Autism Research Institute) (AUTISM SPEAKS) (AUTISM SOCIETY) (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) (NHS) (HELPGUIDE)

© 2014 Alianess Benny Njuguna


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    • Ben716 profile image

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 10 months ago from Kenya

      Hi Marcia. It has taken long to reply. How is your son doing so far?

    • profile image

      mours sshields 3 years ago from Elwood, Indiana

      Very informative! I have a 19-year-old son with autism.

      Marcia Ours