Autism is a complex bio-neurological developmental disability that is complicated even further by the various ways people exhibit its symptoms. No two individuals with autism behave in the same way, so symptoms that are identifiable in one person will not necessarily be present in another. Learning the various ways that autism can manifest itself can be a good first step toward understanding the condition.

The National Autism Association notes that autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it can range from very mild to very severe cases. Many people with autism have sensory issues that typically involve over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain, and other stimuli. People with autism may also experience social communication challenges, and exhibit restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication affects both children and adults with autism. Treatment, especially when it begins in early childhood, can help people with autism overcome some of these difficulties, which include:

  • understanding spoken language
  • using spoken language appropriately
  • understanding or appropriately using gestures
  • making eye contact
  • understanding or appropriately using facial expressions
  • understanding or appropriately using tone of voice

People with autism also may not understand that certain expressions are not meant to be taken literally. Additional social challenges and difficulties may indicate the presence of autism. These include:

  • recognizing emotions and intentions in others
  • recognizing one’s own emotions
  • expressing emotions
  • seeking emotional comfort from others
  • feeling overwhelmed in social situations
  • taking turns in conversation
  • gauging personal space

Behaviors associated with autism vary greatly across the spectrum. Someone with mild autism may not exhibit any such behaviors, while they may be instantly recognizable in others elsewhere on the spectrum. These behaviors may include:

  • repetitive body movements, such as rocking, flapping, spinning, or running back and forth
  • repetitive motions with objects, such as spinning wheels, shaking sticks and flipping levers
  • staring at lights or spinning objects
  • ritualistic behavior, such as lining up objects or repeatedly touching objects in a set order
  • narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
  • a need for unvarying routine and a resistance to change.

Autism is a complicated disorder that is often recognizable in young children by the time they reach their third birthdays. Parents who suspect their child might have autism can discuss their concerns with their child’s pediatrician.