What Are the 3 Main Symptoms of Autism?

Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2022

How can you tell if someone has autism?

Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can manifest as different symptoms in different children.
Children with autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems with communication skills.

Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can manifest as different symptoms in different children. The average age of diagnosis is 2 years, though some children may be detected at around the age of 5 years.

The symptoms to look out for in children with suspected autism are as follows:

  • Delayed milestones
  • A socially awkward child
  • The child who has trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication

Delayed milestones: Every child starts cooing, rolling over, babbling, smiling, pointing, and sitting up at an expected age. These are called milestones. Though every child grows at their own pace, you must visit the pediatrician if...

  • The child does not smile by the age of 6 months.
  • The child has no facial expressions by the age of 9 months.
  • The child does not make cooing noises or babble by the age of 12 months.
  • No pointing or waving by the age of 12 months
  • The child does not speak by the age of 16 months.

Signs of social awkwardness: You must be concerned if your child...

  • Avoids eye contact while you feed him
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Does not respond to their name
  • Does not like being touched
  • Prefers fixed routines and even a minor change may upset them greatly
  • Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them

Problems with verbal and nonverbal communication:

  • They keep repeating words over and over (echolalia).
  • They talk in a flat tone, devoid of expressions.
  • They do not understand emotions (anguish or sarcasm) in a conversation.
  • Have difficulty communicating what they want

Other important red flags are as follows:

  • Regression of milestones: If your child develops the milestones as expected age but loses them by the age of 12-18 months and stops smiling, cooing, pointing, etc., it is a definite reason for concern.
  • Stimming: If your child shows certain repetitive behaviors like head flapping, twitching of the eyelid, twirling, flapping their hands, spin in circles, you must consult the pediatrician immediately.
  • Abnormal eating behavior: Pica (an abnormal desire to eat something that is not regarded as food, such as dirt, clay, ice, or hair), eating only certain food types like sweet or salty food or only "yellow" or a particular colored food.
  • Temper tantrums: These are seen in kids between the age of 2-5 years. The child may be overly agitated, banging his head against the floor. They may have unusual reactions to harmless smells and voices.

What is autism?

Autism or an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the ability of a person to interact at a social level. The brain of a child with ASD does not process the sounds, sights, and smells like an average person. This results in behaviors that are considered socially awkward.

It must be noted that autism is not contagious. Playing with an autistic child will not cause similar signs in another child. Also, there is no relationship between autism and vaccination.

In some cases, the child with autism may have other issues like mental retardation, convulsions, or hyperactivity. However, some individuals with ASD have higher intelligence and are extremely skilled at painting, math, art, etc. In each case of autism, early detection and intervention are crucial. Early therapy can help the child communicate better. It can also help parents understand their children and reach out to them.

What should I do if my child has delayed milestones?

Talk to your child specialist about your concerns. While it is normal for every child to achieve milestones at their own pace, you must always be on the lookout for red flags. If the child does not smile, coo, speak, react to your affections by hugging back, or have eye contact, you must consult your doctor.

You must specifically monitor your child's growth and development if...

  • You were on medications like thalidomide, valproic acid, or antipsychotic medicines during your pregnancy.
  • You or your spouse were in your late 30s when you conceived (children born to older parents are at risk).
  • You have a family member (child, sibling, parent) with autism.
  • You suffered from viral infections during your pregnancy.
  • Your baby had a low birth weight.

Always remember:

"Wait and watch policy" will not help a child with an autistic spectrum disorder. In fact, from 1-2 years of age, the brain is still developing. If the therapy is started at this point, most symptoms of autism can be worked upon. Though, currently, autism is not curable, early intervention during the preschool years can help the child manage the behavioral issues and teach them to cope better in social situations. Behavioral therapy involves teaching parents to reach out to their children. Children suffering from hyperactivity, convulsions, and sleep problems also need early medical management.


Autism is a developmental disability. See Answer

What is high-functioning autism?

High-functioning autism is not a proper medical diagnosis and refers to people with autism who can read, write, handle basic skills, or live independently. The umbrella term for various autism disorders is autism spectrum disorder.

Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism are milder forms of autism.

What are some signs of high-functioning autism?

high-functioning autism
People with high-functioning autism can handle basic skills but have difficulties with communication.

High-functioning autism refers to autism spectrum disorder where people can read, write, and handle basic skills, such as eating and getting dressed.

  • However, they still have difficulties with social interaction and communication.
  • They are slow to take social cues and face challenges to make friends.

Some communication challenges that a person with high-functioning autism may face include the following:

  • Participating in conversation is difficult
  • Trouble connecting with others' thoughts or feelings
  • Difficulty reading others' body language and facial expressions well, for example, the person might be unable to comprehend if a person is happy or sad
  • Unable to understand sarcastic or emotive undertones
  • Usage of flat, monotone, or robotic pattern of speaking that fails to communicate their thoughts
  • Inventing one's own descriptive words and phrases
  • Failing to understand figures of speech and turns of phrase (such as "the early bird catches the worm" or "don't look a gift horse in the mouth")
  • Not being comfortable looking into someone's eyes while talking to them
  • Using the same tone or speaking patterns at home, with friends, or at the workplace
  • Like to talk about one or two favorite topics
  • Difficulty building and maintaining close friendships

Some emotional and behavioral difficulties faced by people with high-functioning autism include the following:

  • Trouble regulating their emotions and responses to them
  • Outbursts or meltdowns following a simple routine or expectation change
  • Responding with an emotional meltdown to an unexpected event
  • Getting upset with rearrangements and shifting
  • Following rigid routine schedules and daily patterns that need to be maintained at any cost
  • Having repetitive behaviors and rituals
  • Making noises in places where pin-drop silence is expected

Food behaviors exhibited by people with autism include the following:

  • Fussy eating food that falls into the same food groups, such as sweet, salty, or bitter
  • Accepting or rejecting foods based on texture, smell, color, or temperature
  • Dipping or covering all food in sauce
  • Stuffing food in the mouth due to the lack of sensory sensitivity
  • Biting inner lips and cheeks while seeing foods they dislike
  • Only eating food presented in the same manner each time

Other signs of high-functioning autism include the following:

  • Being deeply knowledgeable about a few specific areas of interest (such as a historical period, book series, film, industry, hobby, or field of study)
  • Being smart in one or two challenging academic subject areas but having great difficulty doing well in others
  • Experiencing hypersensitivity or impaired sensitivity to sensory input (such as pain, sound, touch, or smell)
  • Being clumsy and having difficulty with coordination
  • Prefer to play and work with themselves rather than with others
  • Being perceived as eccentric or an academic
Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

"Does My Child Have Autism?" HelpGuide.org. Nov. 18, 2022. <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-have-autism.htm>.

"Signs of Autism." Ada Health. Sept. 21, 2022. <https://ada.com/signs-of-autism/>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder." Mar. 28, 2022. <https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html>.