Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication skills and behavior. It not a single disorder, but a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Children diagnosed with ASD typically demonstrate difficulties with social communication and interaction, a restricted range of interests, and repetitive behaviors. While it is typical to see children diagnosed with ASD struggle to some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication, and flexible behavior, the level of disability and the combination of symptoms vary from person to person. Two children with the same diagnosis may look very different when it comes to their behaviors and abilities.

Social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders. Symptoms may include:

  • Unusual or inappropriate body language, gestures, and facial expressions (e.g. avoiding eye contact or using facial expressions that don’t match what they are saying)

  • Lack of interest in other people or in sharing interests or achievements (e.g. sharing a drawing, pointing to a toy)

  • A preference to play alone; resistance to playing with others

  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues

  • Resistance to being touched

  • Difficulty or failure to make friends with children the same age 

 

Many children with ASD struggle with their expressive and receptive speech and language skills. Symptoms may include:

  • Delay or absence in learning how to speak (after the age of two) 

  • Speaking in an abnormal tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch

  • Repeating words or phrases over and over without communicative intent

  • Trouble starting a conversation or keeping it going

  • Difficulty communicating needs or desires

  • Difficulty understand simple statements or questions

  • Taking what is said too literally, missing humor, irony, and sarcasm

 

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may be restricted, rigid, or obsessive in their behaviors, activities, and interests. Symptoms may include:

  • Repetitive body movements (hand flapping, rocking, spinning); moving constantly

  • Obsessive attachment to unusual objects (rubber bands, wheels, light switches, door handles)

  • Lack of spontaneity and imagination in play

  • Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest, sometimes involving numbers or symbols (maps, license plates, sports statistics, bus routes)

  • A strong need for sameness, order, and routines (e.g. lines up toys, follows a rigid schedule). Gets upset by change in routine or environment.

  • Clumsiness, abnormal posture, or odd ways of moving

  • Fascinated by spinning objects, moving pieces, or parts of toys (e.g. spinning the wheels on a race car, instead of playing with the whole car)

  • Under or overreaction to sensory input (sights, sounds , textures)

 

Symptoms of autism typically appear during the first three years of life. Some children show signs from birth while others seem to develop normally at first, then begin to exhibit symptoms when they are 18 to 36 months old, possibly losing some skills they have previously achieved. Some children may not show signs of a communication disorder until they reach school-age or social demands increase.