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Symptoms of Autism

Symptoms of autism in adults and children

March 23, 2023

As of 2018, around 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With ASD being so common, understanding the symptoms of autism is crucial for early intervention and treatment.

People on the spectrum can live happy and fulfilling lives with the right support and understanding. It’s important to remember that not everyone who exhibits these behaviours necessarily has autism spectrum disorder. Not every child or adult who struggles socially, or values their routine, is autistic. Therefore, it’s really important to seek out a qualified professional for proper diagnosis if you suspect autism could be present in yourself or someone you love.

This comprehensive guide covers the signs of autism in both children and adults, and discusses potential treatment options.

Symptoms of autism in adults

In adults, the symptoms of autism can vary greatly depending on how mild or severe their condition is. They may struggle with communication and social interaction in both personal and professional settings. Adults with ASD often have intense interests or routines that they adhere to strictly. While some individuals may excel academically or professionally because of their exceptional ability to focus, others might find it challenging to hold down a job due to difficulties with social cues. Here’s common signs of autism in adults.

symptoms of autism in adults

Social communication difficulties

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism is difficulty with social communication. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations, using and understanding nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language, and difficulty with social reciprocity (taking turns in conversation, sharing interests, etc.). In adults, social communication difficulties may manifest as difficulty making and maintaining friendships, difficulty with workplace communication, and difficulty with romantic relationships.

For example, an autistic person might struggle with small talk in work settings, or misunderstand office politics or unwritten workplace rules (for example, that employees are expected to dress professionally even if there is no dress code). 

Repetitive behaviors and routines

Another common symptom of autism is repetitive behaviors and routines. This can include movements like hand flapping or rocking, insistence on sameness and routine, and intense interests in specific topics or objects. These behaviors can provide a sense of comfort and predictability for those with autism, but can also interfere with daily functioning if they become too rigid or disruptive.

Sensory sensitivities

Many with autism also experience sensory sensitivities, which can include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain stimuli. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as being bothered by certain textures or sounds, or seeking out certain sensations like spinning or jumping.

These sensitivities can impact daily life, as autistic persons may avoid certain situations because they will feel overstimulated – which might mean they don’t want to go to work, will avoid shopping centres, or refuse attend social functions. Sensory overload can make autistic people feel fatigued and stressed.

Difficulty with social interactions and relationships

One of the most well-known difficulties for autistic people is difficulties with social interactions and relationships. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as difficulty making eye contact, not responding to or understanding social cues or gestures, and difficulty understanding or expressing emotions. Those with autism may also struggle with developing and maintaining friendships or romantic relationships.

Delayed or atypical language development

Another common symptom of autism in adults is atypical language development. This can include difficulty understanding idioms, metaphors, and sarcasm; struggling to understand and use the appropriate tone of voice and/or facial gestures; or repetitive or unusual speech patterns. Of course, some with autism may have advanced language skills in certain areas.

Symptoms of autism in children

In children, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is usually diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3. Some of the common symptoms are listed below. They’re similar to the symptoms for adults, but with some specific challenges.

symptoms of autism in children

Social communication difficulties

Many austic children struggle with social communication. The same as adults, this can show up as difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations, reading nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language, and difficulty with commonly accepted social rules like taking turns to speak in conversation. Children with autism may also struggle with imaginative play and prefer to play alone. This can be particularly trying for autistic children if they want to form friendships.

Repetitive behaviors and routines

Like autistic adults, many autistic children use repetitive movements and behaviours. These behaviours can include repeating words or phrases, rocking back and forth, flapping hands or spinning objects, lining up toys or arranging them in a specific order, following strict rituals or schedules, and resisting changes in their environment or routine. Autistic children use the behaviours and routines for different reasons – some provide comfort, some provide stimulation, a sense of predictability, or a feeling of control. However, some of these behaviors may also interfere with learning, social interaction, or daily functioning.

Sensory sensitivities

Children with autism often have specific sensory sensitivities such as either being hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain triggers. This will often manifest as being bothered by certain sounds or textures. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Being bothered by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or certain textures
  • Having difficulty with balance, coordination, or spatial awareness
  • Seeking out sensory input such as rocking, spinning, chewing, or touching objects
  • Having trouble filtering out background noise or visual distractions
  • Preferring or disliking certain foods based on their taste, texture, temperature, or color
  • Having difficulty regulating their body temperature or feeling pain

These sensitivities can impact daily life and may require accommodations or modifications to the environment to help individuals with autism feel more comfortable and regulated.

Difficulty with social interactions and relationships

Just like adults, children with autism usually have difficulty with social interactions and relationships. This can manifest with difficulty in:

  • Understanding and expressing emotions. Autistic children may have difficulty identifying their own feelings and those of others. They also usually struggle to express their emotions effectively, or to regulate their emotional responses. To illustrate how autistic children struggle with emotional regulation, consider the following example. An autistic child feels overwhelmed at school by the noise in the classroom. Since they feel upset, they become hyper-focused on an activity as a way of helping themselves cope. When the teacher tries to talk to the child or get their attention, they become more upset and lash out, or shut down emotionally.
  • Reading social cues and body language. Autistic children may not pick up on subtle signals that indicate someone’s mood, intention, interest, or attitude. They may also misinterpret gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, or sarcasm.
  • Taking turns and sharing attention. Autistic children may have trouble waiting for their turn to speak or act in a conversation or activity. They may also find it hard to follow the topic of discussion or to shift their attention to different people.
  • Developing friendships and empathy. Autistic children may have difficulty starting and maintaining social interactions with other children. They may also lack the skills to understand another person’s perspective, feelings, or needs, which can affect their ability to form meaningful bonds and show empathy.

The Social Express program trains social skills using animated lessons, and is fully supported by health professionals.

Delayed or atypical language development

Another common symptom of autism is delayed or atypical language development. This can include:

  • Not babbling or cooing; not using gestures such as pointing, waving, or nodding by 12 months of age
  • Not saying single words by 16 months of age
  • Not saying two-word phrases by 24 months of age
  • Losing previously learned language skills at any age
  • Having difficulty with eye contact, turn-taking in conversations, and understanding emotions and intentions
  • Having difficulty with initiating and maintaining conversations, asking and answering questions, and using the appropriate tone of voice and volume for the situation
  • Having difficulty with following directions, understanding words and sentences, and responding to questions
  • Having difficulty with naming objects, using correct grammar, and expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Having unusual speech patterns such as repeating words or phrases, saying “you” instead of “I”, or idiosyncratic language (using words or phrases that have a personal meaning but mean nothing to others)

Diagnosing autism

diagnosing autism symptoms of autism

Diagnosing autism can be complicated as the symptoms vary from person to person. However, early diagnosis of autism is crucial as it allows for early intervention and support.

If you suspect your child may have autism because they are displaying some of the behaviors mentioned above then it’s important to seek an evaluation. This may be conducted by a paediatrician, and often for less obvious cases, more health professionals will also be involved.

People involved in a multidisiplinary team to assess autism may include a paediatrician (or child and adolescent psychiatrist), a psychologist, and a speech pathologist. A collaborative approach is often necessary for children whose symptoms are less clear or have co-occurring conditions that complicate the diagnosis.

While it is not intended as a diagnostic tool, our Online Screening Assessment can identify general learning strengths and weaknesses.

Treatment options for the symptoms of autism

Treatment options for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary depending on the individual’s needs. For children diagnosed with ASD, early intervention is critical. Speech therapy can help improve communication skills. Occupational therapy can help identify sensory needs and help to meet those needs in a safe way. A psychologist can help manage anxiety.

One of the most challenging aspects of autism can be difficulties with social communication. Social situations can be stressful for autistic children, which means they might avoid certain environments or situations. Fortunately, there are treatments available to help autistic children improve social skills in a non-stressful setting.

How to help students with learning disabilities - self monitoring

The online Social Express program offered by Sonic Learning is a self-guided course that offers social training in a low-stress environment, presented as animated lessons in a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ format. All you need is a computer or iPad to get started. The Social Express program is supported by health professionals including speech pathologists and occupational therapists, providing coaching and email support throughout the program.

Autistic people can succeed

Early detection and intervention is key when it comes to autism in children. This can significantly improve their chances of developing important skills that will allow them to interact with others and reach their full potential at school. Although adults with autism may struggle with daily life activities sucha as communication and maintaining relationships, having a support network of friends and family can significantly improve their quality of life and ability to face challenges.

Seeking support from healthcare professionals and community resources can help individuals with autism. There are various therapies available such as behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy among others that can aid in improving communication skills and sensory issues.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of autism in both adults and children is vital for early detection. With this knowledge coupled with appropriate interventions and support from professionals or relevant organizations; individuals with autism spectrum disorder can lead fulfilling lives while managing their symptoms effectively.

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