Signs of Autism

girl matching cards
There’s a popular saying about autism: “If you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.” No two people have the exact, same characteristics with autism spectrum disorder. Identifying commonalities with the many signs of autism can be challenging since each child with autism is unique. A diagnosis of ASD is typically determined using a number of methods (see the CDC Diagnostic guidelines below).

Parents may notice specific characteristics or behaviors in their child, and sense something is not quite right. Listen to those feelings! The following is a partial list of signs of autism and all children may exhibit other characteristics, or varied levels of the characteristics. If your child exhibits two or more of these signs of autism, discuss them with your child’s primary health care provider.
girl matching cards
  • Poor eye contact
  • Failure to respond to his or her name
  • Selective hearing, appears aloof
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Prefers playing alone
  • Does not ask for help or make requests
  • Unaware of others’ feelings
  • Delayed speech and use of gestures
  • Regression in vocabulary
  • Repeats words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Speaking in an abnormal tone of voice
  • Struggling with two-way communication
  • Difficulty processing or understanding questions or directions
  • Repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping (self-stimulatory, or “stimming” behaviors that do not seem to have a purpose or interferes with daily living)
  • Development of specific routines with resistance to change
  • Fascination with the details of an object
  • Unusually high tolerance for pain
  • Lack of engagement in imaginative play
  • Frequent tantrums, aggression or self-injurious behaviors, such as head banging
  • Difficulty with fine and/or gross motor skills
  • Sensory processing issues: unusual sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Skills are fragmented or splintered—an individual may be exceptionally strong in some areas while deficient in others (e.g. outstanding math skills but difficulty with reading and comprehending a book or story).
  • Physiological issues—may have gastrointestinal issues, food allergies, and other medical concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control Guidelines

The following summary is based on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website:

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no specific medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Typically, doctors view the child’s behavior and development to affirm a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age two, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable.[1] However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not receive the timely help they need.

Diagnosing an ASD is a two-step process:

  1. Developmental Screening
  2. Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

1. Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is a short test to assess whether your child is learning basic skills as expected, or if there are delays. During developmental screening, the doctor may ask the parent questions, or talk and play with the child during an exam to see how he/she learns, speaks, behaves and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign for concern.

All children should be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child visits with the doctor at:

  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months
  • Additional screening may be recommended if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birth weight or other reasons

In addition, all children should be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child visits with the doctor at:

  • 18 months
  • 24 months
  • Additional screening may be recommended if a child is at high risk for ASD (e.g., having a sister, brother or other family member with an ASD), or if behaviors sometimes associated with ASD are present

If the doctor identifies any signs of a problem, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed.

2. Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

The second step of diagnosis is a comprehensive evaluation. This thorough review may include observing the child’s behavior and development and interviewing the parents. It may also include a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing and other medical testing.

In some cases, the primary care doctor might choose to refer the child and family to a specialist for further assessment and diagnosis. Specialists who can do this type of evaluation include:

  • Developmental pediatricians (doctors who have special training in child development and children with special needs)
  • Child neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine and nerves)
  • Child psychologists or psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)

We provide autism testing and evaluations here at Healing Haven. Learn more about the process and getting your child evaluated.

After a Diagnosis

If your child receives a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, our Healing Haven team will work closely with you to ensure he/she receives appropriate treatment based on his/her areas of need – identifying both strengths and weaknesses to build on. 

You are the expert on your child, and we bring expertise in the area of ABA therapy and autism. We work collaboratively with you to develop a treatment plan to specifically address the behavior and developmental concerns you have. 

We also empower you through Parent Training to carry over your child’s treatment at home and when you are out in the community. Additionally, we recognize the importance of stress management for parents after your child receives a diagnosis. We provide counseling and stress management services to support you, which directly impacts your child’s progress. 

Learn more about all of our services and contact us for help.