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Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms in Children

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/18/2011

The autism spectrum encompasses a number of conditions that share similar symptoms. While the severity may vary, the symptoms will be present to one degree or another.

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    Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms in Children

    Autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children are divided into three main groups. These signs must be present for a firm diagnosis to be made. The groups can be defined as follows:

    • Impaired social interaction
    • Impaired communication
    • Characteristic behavior patterns
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    Autism Spectrum Disorder and Impaired Social Interaction

    Children on the autism spectrum display problems with social interaction. This can affect them in several different ways depending on their level of function and age. Some children seem unable to interact in any way while others try to but are unsuccessful or misunderstood. Typical signs include the following:

    • The child does not make eye contact when spoken to.
    • Infants may not respond to their name.
    • The child does not smile at familiar people or display any sense of connection or recognition.
    • Body language is misunderstood and social contact may be awkward as the child responds inappropriately to social innuendos.
    • Physical contact is not welcomed and the child may shy away from hugs, cuddling or other signs of affection.
    • Even if friendship is desired, the child has little idea of how to approach other children and may unwittingly offend them.
    • The child may appear to be wrapped up in a world of his or her own, even when surrounded by other children who are playing and interacting with each other.

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    Autism Spectrum Disorder and Impaired Communication

    Poor communication skills are amongst the more obvious autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children. Some children remain nonverbal for life while others may speak, but in a strange manner that sounds odd to their peers. About a third to a half of people with autism do not develop enough natural speech to communicate fully. The range of communication symptoms includes the following:

    • Communication problems can often be perceived in the first year of life. The infant may have delayed onset of babbling and diminished responsiveness.
    • Children hardly speak and do not make requests, ask questions or share experiences.
    • Echolalia may be present where an autistic child repeats the words of others without necessarily understanding them.
    • Sarcasm and figures of speech such as metaphors are not understood. The child tends to interpret everything literally.
    • Speech may be pedantic and formal with strange rhythms.

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    Autism Spectrum Disorder and Characteristic Behavior patterns

    Autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children often involve repetitive behaviors and obsessions. Repetitive actions such as rocking and flapping are sometimes referred to as stimming which is an abbreviation of self-stimulation. They typically start before two years of age and are often triggered by excitement or stress.

    Characteristics of repetitive behaviors include the following:

    • Repetitive behaviors may extend to language with the repetition of a single word or phrase becoming part of the child's daily routine.
    • Obsessive following of routines is common in children and great upsets result if an adult interferes with these.
    • Repetitive actions when playing with toys may be apparent. The child lines up toys or spins toy wheels repeatedly.
    • The child may develop an obsessive interest that commonly involves technology, public transport or dinosaurs. This becomes all consuming and takes up large chunks of time if parents allow it to.

    There can be a wide variation in these groups of symptoms but they will be present in a child who is on the autism spectrum.

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    Resources

    Autism Help.org, http://www.autism-help.org/

    Children with Autism, Michael D Powers, Woodbine House, 2000