The Physical Characteristics of Children with Autism - How to Detect Autism in Children

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Autism - What is it?

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the normal functioning of the central nervous system, or brain. Its symptoms manifest in the form of ASD, or autism spectrum disorder. Signs of autism typically appear during early childhood–usually before a child turns three– and continue steadily throughout the course of life. While autism has no known cure, timely intervention and management techniques can equip a child with relevant skills which will allow them to lead relatively normal lives.

The Physical Characteristics of Autism - What are they?

According to Mangal in the book “Educating Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education,” the physical characteristics of children with autism, at first glance, are such that they do not show any outward manifestation of the condition. The author writes that autistic children do not exhibit any unique outward, physical characteristics and deviation from their non-autistic peers. While behavioral characteristic and deviations are more pronounced in autistic children, they do not typically show any physical characteristics indicating autism.

According to Thomas L. Whitman in the book “The Development of Autism- A Self-Regulatory Perspective,” it is not uncommon to describe autistic children as being exceptionally beautiful.

Some autistic children, however, may display minor anomalies in their physical form and characteristics.

Large Head Size

Head size is a distinguishing feature of autistic children. While children may have normal-ranged head size at birth, its size accelerates considerably later. Research indicates that on average, the head-size of autistic children is approximately 10 percent larger than that of non-autistic children.

Excessive Hand Gestures

Autism affects the ability of a child to communicate effectively and to make him or herself understood. Autistic children commonly gesture or point to objects of interest instead of using words. It is often difficult for them to express their desires or needs, leading to frustration and tantrums.

Over-Activity and Under-Activity

The physical activity of autistic children ranges from both ends of the spectrum, manifesting in the form of hyperactivity and long periods of under-activity. According to an article by Dr. Angelica Ronald, titled “Scientists Reveal that Autism and Hyperactivity have the Same Cause,” one in three autistic children are inattentive and hyperactive.

According to Lynley Summers and Jessica Summers in the book, “Autism Is Not a Life Sentence,” autistic children also exhibit periods of extremely low levels of activity. It is not uncommon for an autistic child to run back and forth, or in circles, for hours and then suddenly sit down and stare into space.

Uneven Motor Skills

Autistic children exhibit uneven motor skills. Some may not be able to perform even the simplest of tasks, such as hop or stand still on one leg, use a spoon or fork, or dress themselves. However, the same children may exhibit gifted characteristics, such as drawing, playing music or arranging toys in a complicated manner. Their motor skills follow no set developmental pattern, and while they may perform exceptionally well in certain areas, their performance in other, more common areas is often grossly inadequate.

Other Physical Characteristics

Other physical characteristic that may be indicative of children with autism are

  • Large eyes
  • Large ears
  • Low muscle tone
  • Pale skin tone
  • Head banging or head shaking
  • Hand flapping
  • Crying fits
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Uneven gait
  • Aggression
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Seeming disinterest in people and toys
  • Unresponsive when called
  • Laughing for no reason

These characteristics may not necessarily pinpoint autism and could be caused by other underlying conditions. Parents and caregivers must seek professional assessment/evaluation if they suspect autism.


  • Central Connecticut State University: Physical Characteristics of Autism

  • Children’s Care: Sioux Falls and Rapid City: Physical Characteristics of Autism

  • Your Amazing Brain: Scientists reveal that autism and hyperactivity have the same cause. Dr Angelica Ronald

  • “Educating Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education”; S.K. Mangal; 2009

  • “The Development of Autism- A Self-Regulatory Perspective”; Thomas L. Whitman; 2004

  • “Autism Is Not a Life Sentence"; Lynley Summers and Jessica Summers; 2006