Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental condition caused by brain differences. It affects a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others, and can impact how they learn, play and move their body.
If you think your child might be autistic, it’s best to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. Getting a diagnosis can help families navigate the condition, get early support and intervention, and improve the autistic person’s overall quality of life.
That said, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the most common signs and symptoms.
Signs of autism spectrum disorder in children and teens
The most prominent signs of autism in children and teens have to do with social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Here’s what to know.
What to look for in social interactions
A child or preteen with autism spectrum disorder might:
- Not respond to their name or appear not to hear when someone is talking to them
- Be unable to start conversations or keep them going
- Not express their feelings
- Seem unaware of other people’s feelings
- Talk in an abnormal rhythm or tone
- Seem unable to follow simple instructions or understand basic questions
- Not make eye contact
- Show little facial expression
- Have trouble recognizing nonverbal cues in others, like tone of voice and facial expressions
- Avoid social situations or have difficulty understanding social cues.
- Prefer playing alone
- Prefer technology and love screen time
Keep in mind people with autism will each have unique behavioral patterns. So your child might not show all symptoms, and the signs could range from severe to mild.
Physical signs to look for
A child or preteen with autism might also show physical signs and repetitive behavioral patterns, such as:
- Physical signs and repetitive behaviors
- Repetitive physical movements, like rocking, spinning, or flapping their hands (also called stimming)
- Signs of self-harm, like biting themself or banging their head against something
- Developing rituals and routines, then getting upset if anything interrupts the behavior
- Odd movement patterns or coordination issues
- Abnormally stiff body language
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
- Intense fixation on objects or activities
The keyword with autism spectrum disorder is spectrum. This means the severity of the condition is on a scale, and an autistic child, teen, or adult can vary widely in their behavior.
Some autistic children might have trouble learning. Others may have a higher-than-average intelligence and excel in school.
When is autism diagnosed?
According to the CDC, autism can be detected in children as young as 18 months. However, many won’t get an official diagnosis until at least a few years later. And some people aren’t diagnosed until they’re teens or adults. Girls are much more likely to have a delayed diagnosis for a variety of reasons.
Some kids with autism might learn to adjust certain behaviors (also called masking) as they mature and go on to lead relatively typical lives. But some people will have trouble with social skills and language, and may even experience worsened symptoms as they get older.
In any case, early detection is ideal, as it helps the autistic person and their family get all the support they need.
What to do if you think your child may have autism
If you think your child might be autistic, it’s best to check in with a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to assess the symptoms and behaviors, make a diagnosis if appropriate, and offer advice and solutions for navigating an autism diagnosis.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 2022. Web. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Screening and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 2022. Web. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html
- Mayo Clinic Health System. “Could my child have autism spectrum disorder?” 2021. Web. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/could-my-child-have-autism-spectrum-disorder
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Autism spectrum disorder.” 2022. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). “Living with Autism: Journey to Adulthood.” 2019. Web. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/living-with-autism-journey-to-adulthood