Most Common Signs Of Autism

Decode the most common signs of autism, from early patterns to sensory sensitivities and co-conditions.

Alan Hollander
July 7, 2024

Most Common Signs Of Autism

Decode the most common signs of autism, from early patterns to sensory sensitivities and co-conditions.

Recognizing Autism Signs

Understanding the most common signs of autism can help facilitate early intervention, which can lead to better outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It's important to note that ASD manifests differently in different people, and these signs are not definitive proof of ASD but may warrant further investigation.

Early Signs in Babies

Recognizing early signs of autism in babies can be challenging given the natural variability in infant development. However, several signs are commonly observed in babies who later receive a diagnosis of ASD.

  • Reduced Eye Contact: Babies who develop ASD often begin making less eye contact at around 2 months of age. Declining eye contact can be one of the signs of autism in babies.
  • Limited Pointing or Gesturing: Autistic children generally point and gesture much less than children with nonautistic development. Less pointing can sometimes indicate the possibility of a language delay and can be a sign of autism in babies.
  • Absence of Response to Their Name: Autistic infants may show limited or no response to their name. Many babies who later develop ASD do not respond to their own names by 9 months of age. This absence of response may be an indicator of autism in babies.
  • Reduced Emotion in Facial Expressions: Researchers have found that autistic children display less emotion through facial expressions than children with nonautistic development. This reduced emotion can be a sign of autism in babies [1].
  • Regression in Skills: When an infant or toddler loses skills and abilities that had begun to develop, it can be an indication of autism. As many as one-third of autistic children lose skills after infancy and before preschool, with language skills being lost around 94% of the time. This regression can be a sign of autism in babies [1].

Behavioral Patterns

Beyond infancy, as children grow and develop, several behavioral patterns may emerge that could indicate ASD. These may include:

  • Repetitive behaviors: This could include actions like hand-flapping, rocking, or spinning.
  • Fixation on specific interests: Children with ASD may develop intense, often narrow, interests.
  • Difficulty with social interactions: This could manifest as difficulty making friends, understanding social cues, or empathizing with others.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Children with ASD may be overly sensitive or under-responsive to certain sensory stimuli.

It's important to remember that these signs alone do not confirm an ASD diagnosis. If you notice these signs in your child, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a specialist who can conduct a thorough evaluation. Early recognition and intervention can make a significant difference in the lives of those with ASD.

Diagnostic Process

The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves a comprehensive process that includes observation, assessment, and the use of specific screening tools. As there is no lab test available for diagnosing autism, doctors rely heavily on observing the behaviors of very young children and listening to the concerns of their parents [2].

Observation and Assessment

The first step in the diagnostic process involves observing the child's development and behavior. Pediatricians watch the child, talk to them, ask questions about family history, and inquire about the child’s development and behavior. Milestones and developmental concerns are also significant factors in the diagnostic process [2].

For instance, autistic infants may show limited or no response to their name, which may be an indicator of autism in babies. Autistic children generally point and gesture much less than children with nonautistic development, and less pointing can sometimes indicate the possibility of a language delay.

In some cases, doctors might recommend genetic testing to rule out other conditions that could cause symptoms similar to autism in children [2].

Screening Tools

After the initial observation and assessment, doctors use specific screening tools to determine whether a child meets the criteria for autism as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To be diagnosed with ASD, a child must have problems with two categories to fall on the autism spectrum.

The DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder emphasize factors like screening tools and diagnostic tests, along with the individual's unique physical, emotional, learning, and behavioral needs. The diagnosis specifies the level of support a person may require [3].

Children on the autism spectrum may show signs across many areas of development, and not all signs are necessary for a child to receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Symptoms can occur in combination or in degrees of intensity and can vary widely from person to person and across the lifespan.

The diagnostic process for autism is detailed and multifaceted, focusing on the child's behavior, development, and overall health. It's a crucial step in ensuring that children with autism receive the appropriate support and intervention they need, helping them lead fulfilling and productive lives.

Characteristics of Autism

Understanding autism involves recognition of its core characteristics. In essence, two of the most common signs of autism are social communication challenges and repetitive behaviors.

Social Communication Challenges

One of the defining characteristics of autism is challenges in social communication. This can manifest in various ways and degrees of severity. Individuals with autism may struggle with understanding non-verbal cues, expressing emotions, or maintaining a back-and-forth conversation. They may also have difficulty building and maintaining relationships, which can result in feelings of isolation.

These struggles are not due to a lack of desire to interact with others but rather a difficulty in understanding and navigating social rules and conventions. It is important to note that the degree of these challenges can vary greatly among individuals with autism, with some being quite adept in certain social situations and others needing more support.

Repetitive Behaviors

Restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) are another core characteristic of autism. RRBs can include behaviors such as:

  • A strong attachment to routines
  • Repetitive motor movements
  • Preoccupation with specific patterns of interest
  • Fixation on parts of objects

Research using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) has shown that these behaviors are more severe and frequent in young children with autism and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) diagnoses than in children in other groups. Additionally, RRB scores were found to be stable over time for children with autism and nonspectrum disorders.

These behaviors often provide comfort or help cope with sensory overload, a common experience for individuals with autism. However, when these behaviors interfere with daily functioning or cause distress, they can become a challenge.

Understanding and recognizing these characteristics can help in identifying autism early and ensuring that appropriate support and interventions are put in place. It's important to remember that autism is a spectrum condition, meaning these traits can present differently from person to person. Each individual with autism is unique, and their experiences and traits can vary widely.

Sensory Sensitivities

One of the most common signs of autism is sensory sensitivities. These can manifest as both hyper-sensitivities (over-responsiveness) and hypo-sensitivities (under-responsiveness).

Hyper- and Hypo-Sensitivities

Over 96% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains. These sensory alterations are more prevalent in individuals with ASD than in other developmental disabilities. Autistic individuals can have sensory sensitivities related to sight, touch, taste, smell, sound, sense of position, balance, movement, temperature, and pain. Some might be oversensitive in some areas and undersensitive in others, and stress can exacerbate these sensitivities.

In terms of hypersensitivity, autistic children may exhibit behaviors such as crying, wanting to get away from the sensory input, withdrawing, putting their hands over ears or eyes, stimming more, or appearing restless, stressed, or irritable [6].

On the other hand, those with hypo-sensitivities may seek out sensory experiences, displaying behaviors like seeking out touch, exploring things through touch, being drawn to bright colors, speaking loudly, and more [6].

Impact on Daily Life

Sensory sensitivities can have a significant impact on the daily life of a child with autism. For instance, hypersensitivity to sound may make a child feel uncomfortable or anxious in a noisy environment, while hyposensitivity may lead to them not noticing certain sounds or being overly fascinated by others.

Similarly, hypersensitivity to touch can make certain textures or types of clothing uncomfortable, while hyposensitivity might lead to a lack of awareness about the physical boundaries with others.

Acknowledging and understanding these sensory sensitivities can help in creating a more comfortable and supportive environment for individuals with autism. It's also crucial to note that each individual's sensory experiences can be unique, and their needs can vary significantly. It's therefore important to tailor strategies and interventions to meet their specific sensory needs.

Variability in Symptoms

Understanding autism necessitates a deep dive into the variability of its symptoms. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a wide range of symptom severity and developmental differences, which manifest uniquely in each individual.

Spectrum Severity

The severity of autism symptoms varies significantly from person to person. This variance is evident in core characteristics such as social communication challenges, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities. Restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs)—one of the core characteristics of autism—include behaviors such as preoccupation with restricted patterns of interest, adherence to specific routines, repetitive motor movements, and preoccupation with parts of objects. According to research using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), RRBs occur more frequently and are more severe in young children with autism and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) diagnoses than in children in other groups.

Moreover, over 96% of children with ASD report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains [5]. These sensory hyper- and hypo-responsiveness are more prevalent in individuals with ASD than in other developmental disabilities. The sensory behavioral differences can range from mild to severe and can endure through adulthood.

Developmental Differences

Autism also presents developmental differences. An individual's age and nonverbal IQ (NVIQ) directly influence the severity and frequency of RRBs. For instance, children with autism and nonspectrum disorders show stable RRB scores over time, but typically developing preschoolers display lower RRB scores than toddlers.

Furthermore, individuals with ASD may exhibit atypical visual behavior. This behavior can be construed as avoiding visual input or seeking additional visual stimuli, which indicates a significant difference in their sensory perception compared to typically developing individuals.

In conclusion, understanding the variability in symptoms can provide valuable insights into the complexity of autism. The wide-ranging spectrum of severity and the unique developmental differences highlight the importance of personalized approaches in managing the most common signs of autism.

Co-Occurring Conditions

The complexities of autism spectrum disorder often extend beyond the most common signs of autism. Many individuals with autism also experience co-occurring conditions, which can add an additional layer of complexity to both diagnosis and treatment.

ADHD and Autism

One of the most common conditions to co-occur with autism is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may also show signs that align with a diagnosis for ADHD. It's important to note that these conditions, while often co-occurring, are separate diagnoses and each requires its own specific treatment and management strategies. The diagnosing clinician may indicate both diagnoses in the report, providing a comprehensive understanding of the individual's unique behavioral and cognitive profile.

Additional Diagnoses

In addition to ADHD, other diagnoses may co-occur with autism. For example, sensory sensitivities are common among children and teenagers with autism. These sensitivities can be related to sight, touch, taste, smell, sound, sense of position, balance, movement, temperature, and pain. Some individuals might be oversensitive in some areas and undersensitive in others, and stress can exacerbate these sensitivities.

Children with sensory oversensitivities may exhibit behaviors such as crying, wanting to get away from the sensory input, withdrawing, putting their hands over ears or eyes, or appearing restless, stressed, or irritable. On the other hand, children with sensory undersensitivities may seek out sensory experiences and display behaviors like seeking out touch, exploring things through touch, being drawn to bright colors, or speaking loudly [6].

Furthermore, some children with autism might seem less aware of pain, not reacting to painful stimuli, such as injuries or hot objects. Strategies to support children with reduced pain sensitivity include professional consultation and understanding differences in pain expression.

Overall, when assessing the most common signs of autism, it's crucial to consider the potential of co-occurring conditions. These additional diagnoses can greatly impact an individual's experience of autism and thus should be taken into account in any comprehensive evaluation or treatment plan.

References

[1]: https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/signs-of-autism-in-babies

[2]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/how-do-doctors-diagnose-autism

[3]: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/autism-spectrum-disorder-asd/professionals-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd.html

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005305/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086654/

[6]: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/sensory-sensitivities-asd