Autism Symptoms in Kids: Categories, Screening, Treatment & More (2023)

Autism Symptoms in Kids: Categories, Screening, Treatment & More (1)Share on Pinterest

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is actually a group of neurodevelopmental conditions. It affects the way a person perceives and interacts with both other people and their surroundings.

Signs and symptoms of ASD often present during the first few years of life. They can include things like problems interacting or communicating with others as well as repetitive behaviors or routines.

But what are some more specific signs and symptoms of ASD? And how is the condition diagnosed? Continue reading as we explore these topics and more.

Early identification and diagnosis of ASD is very important. When support strategies are started early, it can make a big difference in a child’s quality of life and ability to function.

Children often show early signs of ASD between the ages of 12 and 18 months or even earlier. However, many children don’t receive a diagnosis until after the age of 3. This is because sometimes the early signs of ASD can be difficult to spot.

So, what signs can you look for?

early signs of autism

Some of the early signs of ASD in children include things like:

  • problems making or maintaining eye contact
  • not responding when their name is called
  • trouble utilizing nonverbal forms of communication, such as pointing or waving
  • difficulties with verbal communication, such as cooing or babbling in very young children and use of single words or two-word phrases in older children
  • trouble with play, including disinterest in other children or difficulty imitating another person

If you notice any of these behaviors, consult with your child’s doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention and support for children with autism is very important. It can enhance a child’s development and may significantly improve social skills.

The new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, divides symptoms into two categories:

  1. problems with social interactions and communication
  2. behaviors that are repetitive or restricted

We’ll explore both of these categories in more detail below. Let’s start with social interaction and communication. Since these are two rather broad topics, they may be separated into subcategories.

(Video) A Life-Changing Therapy For Children With Autism At The Child Study Center

Some examples of problems with social skills include:

  • avoiding or having difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • not responding when their name is called
  • appearing to not hear you when you talk to them
  • preferring to play alone instead of with others
  • appearing not to share interests with others
  • avoiding physical contact, such as being held or cuddled
  • having a flat facial expression
  • having difficulty expressing their own feelings or understanding the feelings of others

Some examples of trouble with communication include:

  • delays or regression in speech and language development
  • reversing pronouns, such as saying “you” when they mean “I”
  • not using gestures like pointing or waving
  • difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, like gestures or facial expressions
  • talking in a flat or sing-song voice
  • experiencing trouble starting or maintaining a conversation
  • not following directions
  • repeating certain words or phrases over and over again (echolalia)
  • experiencing trouble playing pretend
  • not understanding things like jokes, sarcasm, or figures of speech

Some behaviors to look for include things like:

  • repetitive movements, such as rocking back and forth and hand flapping
  • developing routines or rituals and becoming agitated if they’re disrupted
  • becoming intensely fixated with an object or activity, like watching a ceiling fan spin
  • having very specific or obsessive interests
  • being extremely organized, such as lining up toys in a specific order
  • having intense interest in the details of a thing, such as the wheels on a toy car, rather than the whole object
  • odd movement patterns, like walking on their toes or exaggerated body language
  • being sensitive to sensory stimulation, such as lights, sounds, or sensations
  • having very specific aversions or preferences for foods, which can include specific food types, textures, or temperature
(Video) What are the signs of autism and how does it affect the child?

There are also some additional signs and symptoms children with ASD may exhibit along with the above lists. These can include:

  • intense temper tantrums
  • large amounts of energy or being very active
  • acting impulsively
  • irritability or aggression
  • engaging in behaviors that can cause self-harm, such as head-banging
  • problems with sleep
  • being more fearful or less fearful than would be expected

Now that we’ve discussed the signs and symptoms of ASD in more detail, what are some indications that you should make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician?

see your doctor

Some signs or symptoms that you may want to discuss with your child’s doctor, depending on their age, include:

  • rarely or never making eye contact with you
  • not responding when you engage with them
  • not imitating your sounds or facial expressions
  • not using gestures such as pointing and waving
  • not developing, or losing, their language or communication milestones (can include things as early as babbling to later developments like speaking single words or short phrases)
  • not engaging in imaginary play or pretend games

While every child develops differently, some signs of ASD can appear early. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, speak with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.

(Video) What Is Considered Mild Autism? | Autism

Before we summarize the diagnostic process for ASD, let’s first go over the diagnostic criteria. The DSM-5 defines two categories of symptoms:

  1. deficits in social interaction and communication
  2. restricted or repetitive behavior patterns

Symptoms are further broken into subcategories: three for social interaction and communication and four for behavioral patterns.

A child must meet symptoms in all three social and communication subcategories and also in two of the four behavioral pattern subcategories to receive an ASD diagnosis.

When symptoms are recorded, their severity must also be determined. This is done on a rating of 1 to 3, with 1 being the least severe and 3 being the most severe.

Other criteria for symptoms include the following:

  • Symptoms must be present from an early period of development.
  • Symptoms must lead to a significant disruption in an individual’s ability to function, such as socially or in their job.
  • Symptoms can’t be explained by another developmental or intellectual condition.

Autism screening

Developmental screenings can help identify ASD early. During a developmental screening, your child’s doctor will evaluate things like your child’s behavior, movements, and speech to see if they meet typical milestones.

While pediatricians check your child’s development at every well-child visit, it’s recommended that more focused screening for any developmental conditions be done during the following well-child visits:

  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months

Specific screening for ASD is recommended at well-child visits at 18 and 24 months. If screenings indicate that your child may have ASD, you’ll likely be referred to a specialist who works with children with ASD for further evaluation.

Tools for screening and diagnostics

While screening tools aren’t a definitive diagnosis, they’re useful for identifying children at risk for ASD so they can be referred to a specialist for further evaluation.

Some screening tools that are specific for ASD are:

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  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT). This is a parent-completed questionnaire that’s used for identifying children at risk for ASD.
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT). This tool comprises 12 activities that can evaluate things like communication and play.

In addition to the diagnostic criteria provided in the DSM-5, other diagnostic tools practitioners may use to help diagnose ASD are:

  • Autism Diagnosis Interview – Revised (ADI-R). ADI-R can be used for individuals 18 months and older. It assesses communication, social skills, and repetitive behavior.
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Generic (ADOS-G). ADOS-G uses 30-minute modules to assess things like communication, social skills, and play.
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). CARS can be used for children over 2 years old. The scale draws on five different systems for diagnosing ASD.
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS-2). GARS-2 is a tool that helps parents, doctors, and teachers identify ASD in people between the ages of 3 and 22 years old.

Although there’s currently no cure for ASD, there are a variety of options. The overall goal of support stratefies is to decrease ASD symptoms while increasing your child’s quality of life and ability to function.

Several different types of professionals may be involved in support options, including doctors, psychiatrists, and speech-language pathologists. A support strategy will focus on addressing your child’s specific needs.

support strategies for autism

Possible options include:

  • Psychological therapy. This can include a myriad of different therapy types, including things like various types of behavioral therapy, educational therapy, and social skills training.
  • Medications. Some medications can help address ASD symptoms, such as aggression or hyperactivity.
  • Speech and language therapy. This type of therapy can help a child improve their speech and verbal communication skills.
  • Occupational therapy. A therapist will help your child gain everyday living skills.
  • Treating other health conditions. Children with ASD may also have other health conditions, such as epilepsy. Your doctor will work to manage these conditions as well.
  • Alternative therapy. Many parents consider alternative therapy to complement other support options. In some cases, risks may outweigh the benefits. Discuss alternative therapies with your child’s pediatrician.

The outlook for children with ASD can vary greatly by individual. Some children may go on to live relatively independent lives. Others may require continued assistance throughout their lives.

Early detection of ASD is very important. The earlier ASD is diagnosed, the sooner support can begin. This can be vital in making sure a child gets the support they need to improve their symptoms and quality of life.

If your child has symptoms of ASD, make an appointment with their pediatrician. They’ll help combine your experiences, their observations, and available screening tools to determine if your child needs additional evaluation by a specialist.

(Video) Early Signs of Autism Video Tutorial | Kennedy Krieger Institute


What are the 3 main categories of symptoms of autism? ›

Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people.
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
  • Symptoms that affect their ability to function in school, work, and other areas of life.

What are the 2 categories to consider when diagnosing autism? ›

into two categories of symptoms
  • Persistent deficits in social communication/interaction and.
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

Can a child with mild autism live a normal life? ›

The simple answer to this question is yes, a person with autism spectrum disorder can live independently as an adult. However, not all individuals achieve the same level of independence.

What are the symptoms of Level 1 autism spectrum disorder? ›

Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Level 1 Autism

Difficulty switching between activities. Problems with executive functioning which hinder independence. Atypical response to others in social situations. Difficulty initiating social interactions and maintaining reciprocity in social interaction.

What are signs of mild autism? ›

Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors or Interests
  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed.
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (called echolalia)
  • Plays with toys the same way every time.
  • Is focused on parts of objects (for example, wheels)
  • Gets upset by minor changes.
  • Has obsessive interests.

What is the most common autism test? ›

The most common assessments for ASD include:
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule - Second Edition (ADOS-2) ...
  • Autism Diagnosis Interview-Revised (ADI-R) ...
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS-2)
Jun 3, 2021

What score is considered autism? ›

Total scores can range from a low of 15 to a high of 60; scores below 30 indicate that the individual is in the non-autistic range, scores between 30 and 36.5 indicate mild to moderate autism, and scores from 37 to 60 indicate severe autism (Schopler et al.

What is the gold standard for autism? ›

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is widely considered to be the gold standard for autism treatment.

Can a child have autistic traits but not be autistic? ›

Population-based studies have found that, in addition to the individuals with ASD, many others exhibit subthreshold autistic or autisticlike traits (ALTs), that is, problems or peculiarities in sociocommunicative behavior, perception of others and self, and adaptation to the environment that do not meet formal criteria ...

What is the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 autism? ›

Level 1: The person may be able to live a relatively independent life with minimal support. Level 2: Substantial support is necessary to help the person communicate and deal with change.

What is the best age to diagnose a child with autism? ›

ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months of age or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. Some people are not diagnosed until they are adolescents or adults.

What is the most effective treatment for autism? ›

Behavioral approaches have the most evidence for treating symptoms of ASD. They have become widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals and are used in many schools and treatment clinics. A notable behavioral treatment for people with ASD is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

What is the new treatment for autism? ›

Based on the urgent need for new therapies, Penzes' team developed a derivative of an insulin-like growth factor-binding protein, IGFBP2, which is found in structures of the brain affected in ASD and has been shown to improve neuroplasticity and cognitive functions.

What is the main cause of autism? ›

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition. Other causes are not yet known.

What does level 1 autism look like in children? ›

A child with level 1 autism may understand and speak in complete sentences, but have difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversation. Children with ASD level 1 experience some inflexibility of behavior, like difficulty switching between tasks, staying organized, and planning.

What are the symptoms of ASD level 2? ›

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support: Marked difficulties in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. Markedly odd, restricted repetitive behaviors, noticeable difficulties changing activities or focus.

Can mild autism be cured? ›

No cure exists for autism spectrum disorder, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. The goal of treatment is to maximize your child's ability to function by reducing autism spectrum disorder symptoms and supporting development and learning.

Can mild autism go to normal school? ›

Autism has a wide spectrum and not every individual with autism can find a place in mainstream schools. However, I have had a few success stories where the right support and timely intervention helped. Several students from my schools were able to successfully complete their education from mainstream schools.

What are uncommon symptoms of autism? ›

While the exact cause isn't known, children with ASD experience stomach or bowel issues more frequently than other kids. These types of symptoms might include stomach cramps, nausea, constipation, and chronic diarrhea, which can make their attempts to socialize even more challenging.

Can mild autism get worse with age? ›

Autism does not change or worsen as someone gets older, and there's no cure. Autism isn't like a pair of shoes that needs to be broken in for complete comfort. This is because no matter what you've heard, the notion that you'll wake up one day no longer autistic is, was, and will forever be untrue.

What happens if you test positive for autism? ›

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors screen all children for autism starting at 18 months of age and refer children with positive test results to an autism specialist for further evaluation, to an audiologist for a hearing test and to early-intervention services for therapy2.

Can autism show up on an MRI? ›

About 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism by the time they are 8 years old. Researchers say MRI scans can identify differences in the brains of fetuses that could be early indicators that a child will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

What tool is used to diagnose autism? ›

The ADI-R is a clinical diagnostic instrument for assessing autism in children and adults. The ADI-R is a revised version of the original ADI and the information obtained can be used in a diagnostic algorithm for autism as described in both the ICD-10 and DSM-IV manuals.

What is the average IQ of an autistic child? ›

Autism Prevalence

31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85). Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

What is the average IQ of a high functioning autistic child? ›

Broadening of the autism concept was associated with a significant increase in research of “high functioning autism” [a term used for ASD individuals with an IQ of ≥70, i.e., not IQ above average (17)], reflected by substantially more publications with this keyword compared to those on “low functioning autism” (18).

Is autism a disability? ›

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with an estimated prevalence of one to two percent of the American and worldwide population. The diversity of the disability means that each person's individual experience of autism and needs for supports and services can vary widely.

What is the official color for autism? ›

On world autism awareness day, April 2nd, you may see plenty of blue being shown off to support autism awareness. The color blue's association to autism originated with the autism advocacy association known as Autism Speaks. Their “Light it Up Blue” campaign calls for people to wear blue to promote autism awareness.

How does neurologist diagnose autism? ›

However, unlike other genetic conditions, there is no blood analysis, brain scan, or other test that can diagnose autism. Instead, doctors and psychologists diagnose ASD by analyzing the patient's history and monitoring their behavior.

Is there a marker for autism? ›

Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. However, there are currently no reliable biomarkers for ASD diagnosis.

Can autism be caused by neglect? ›

Autism is likely to have multiple genes responsible rather than a single gene. However, it is not caused by emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up. There is no link between autism and vaccines.

What is the mildest form of autism spectrum? ›

Asperger's Syndrome is the mildest form of autism and is closely associated with level one of ASD.

Does a child with autism qualify for SSI? ›

Autism is listed as a qualifying condition in the Childhood Blue Book. To be eligible for SSI, your child must have medical documentation of both of the following: Measurable deficits in verbal and non verbal communication, as well as deficits in social interactions, AND.

Is ASD Level 2 a disability? ›

People diagnosed with Level 2 ASD require moderate levels of support. This means that they may only be capable of limited social interactions, have limited interests, and frequently perform limited or repetitive behaviours. Individuals with Level 2 ASD diagnosis will automatically qualify to be an NDIS participant.

Can a child with level 3 autism improve? ›

However, it is also possible for children with level 3 autism to improve over time. If they get an accurate diagnosis, impactful therapy plans, and early interventions, they have a better chance of overcoming any growth delays.

What is the average age of an autistic child? ›

What is the common age of diagnosis for children with autism worldwide? There are studies that suggest the average age of children diagnosed with autism is around three years old in both the United States (US) and in the United Kingdom (UK).

Are you born with autism? ›

It's something you're born with. Signs of autism might be noticed when you're very young, or not until you're older. If you're autistic, you're autistic your whole life. Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a "cure".

Does autism run in families? ›

If someone in your family has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be more likely to have a child with ASD. ASD can look very different from person to person, so taking a careful family health history can be important for early diagnosis.

What is the best food for children with autism? ›

The best food for children with autism are fatty fish, eggs, grass-fed beef, sustainably raised animal proteins, shellfish, beans, nuts, and seeds. Research has found that fatty fish such as salmon and free-range eggs share the healthy omega 3 acid. Foods that contain omega 3s help fight inflammation in the body.

What are 3 treatments for autism? ›

What are the treatments for autism?
  • Behavioral management therapy.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy.
  • Early intervention.
  • Educational and school-based therapies.
  • Joint attention therapy.
  • Medication treatment.
  • Nutritional therapy.
  • Occupational therapy.
Apr 19, 2021

What is the best milk for autism child? ›

Since the early 2000s, camel milk has become increasingly popular as a therapy for autism.

Can stem cells fix autism? ›

Supporters of stem cell therapy for autism say that it can reduce characteristics of autism. They say it can improve behaviour, anxiety, social skills, communication, speech and ability to focus. There's no clear scientific evidence that stem cell therapy changes the characteristics of autism.

Can you recover from autism? ›

Can one recover from Autism? At present, it is widely understood that there is no cure for Autism.

Does autism come from the mother or father? ›

The team found that mothers passed only half of their structural variants on to their autistic children—a frequency that would be expected by chance alone—suggesting that variants inherited from mothers were not associated with autism. But surprisingly, fathers did pass on substantially more than 50% of their variants.

What is the biggest risk factor for autism? ›

Although scientists are still trying to understand why some people develop autism and others don't, risk factors may include:
  • A sibling with autism.
  • Older parents.
  • Certain genetic conditions, such as Down, fragile X, and Rett syndromes.
  • Very low birth weight.

What environmental factors can cause autism? ›

Genetic and epigenetic-related effects

It has been suggested that some environmental factors such as certain toxins and vitamin D deficiency increase the risk of gene mutation that in turn can lead to an increased risk of ASD [58].

What are the major categories of symptoms in autism spectrum disorders? ›

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.

What are the categories of autism? ›

There are five major types of autism which include Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Kanner's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified.

What is the lowest form of autism? ›

ASD Level 1 – Level 1 ASD is currently the lowest classification. Those on this level will require some support to help with issues like inhibited social interaction and lack of organization and planning skills.

How can you tell the difference between mild and severe autism? ›

Depending on intellectual abilities, children with moderate autism may learn to communicate through pictures, typing, or via other communication devices. Many children with severe autism have very limited communication and language abilities.

What are 4 common characteristics of a person with autism spectrum disorder? ›

Restricted/ Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests, or Activities
  • Stereotyped or repetitive behavior (e.g. lining up toys) or speech (e.g. echolalia)
  • Highly restricted interests and fixations.
  • Rigid thinking patterns.
  • Difficulty adapting to transitions or sudden changes in routine.

What is the score range for autism? ›

Total scores can range from a low of 15 to a high of 60; scores below 30 indicate that the individual is in the non-autistic range, scores between 30 and 36.5 indicate mild to moderate autism, and scores from 37 to 60 indicate severe autism (Schopler et al.


1. Autism: Screening, Treatment & Controversy
(Mary Greeley Medical Center)
2. Autism Spectrum Disorder, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
(Medical Centric)
3. 2-Minute Neuroscience: Autism
(Neuroscientifically Challenged)
4. Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment and Treatment Trends
5. 5 Signs You DO NOT Have Autism
(Autism Family)
6. Once a non-verbal child with autism, Ava hopes her story will help other kids with special needs
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