What Does Autism Look Like?

What does autism look like?

Reading about the signs of and behaviors associated with autism can offer parents a useful overview of the disorder. Being able to see what autism looks like is even more useful in gaining an understanding of this complex disorder.

We hear so much about autism in the media these days that it is easy to get overwhelmed with information and be unsure about whether our own children could be affected. Autism is complex, and no two children with the same diagnosis will present with the same symptoms. Knowing – or not knowing — just what kinds of behaviors to look for can be confusing and frightening.

An excellent resource for visual representations of autism is The ASD Video Glossary, AutismNavigator, and FirstWords and accessible through all of these organizations’ websites. This video glossary provides clear, straightforward videos of a number of autism-related topics.

The Overview section includes a video of what different children with autism look like as they go about their play. There is also a video that presents the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for autism. This video explains briefly but thoroughly how all criteria (delays in communication, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and deficits in social reciprocity) present themselves and shows examples of these deficits.

There is a series of videos demonstrating the non-verbal behaviors associated with autism: eye gaze, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures. This is followed by a series of videos on expressive and receptive language and a series on restrictive patterns of interest. A series on over-reaction to sensory input rounds out the available videos.

These videos are brief, and many show a typically developing child’s behavior in these areas by way of comparison to those with “red flags” for autism.

There are links to sections on treatments and outcomes which are not yet loaded, but the site states they are “coming soon.”

The videos are brief and informative, and registration for this free service is simple. Once you register, you have immediate access to the videos.

Because autism is so complex, these visual guides are extremely helpful in helping parents to understand what autism looks like in the developing child.

Autism Signs: Identification Signs in the Developing Child

What are the signs of autism?

Parents and caregivers are nearly always the first to identify when something is not “right” with a child’s development. Developmental delays can signify autism spectrum disorder (ASD), other developmental problems, or nothing at all. Here are some signs of autism to look for in the developing child.

Communication and Language Delays

Delays in or absence of communication is a hallmark of ASD. If your baby does not turn toward sounds, smile back at you by about 4 months, babble, coo, and start “jabbering” sounds when happy – but cry when unhappy – these may be signs of autism.

Older babies who do not use gestures (such as waving or pointing by about 12 months) or toddlers who speak few words and seem not to understand words may be exhibiting signs of autism. Autistic children may appear not to be able to hear someone who is speaking to them, or to be in their “own world,” unaware of others’ attempts at communication.

Some autistic children do not speak at all, and most have significant delays in language acquisition and use. Around age 2, for instance, normally developing children can 2 to 4 words together in short but meaningful noun + verb “sentences” such as “want juice” or “need nap.”

Cognitive Delays

When babies and toddlers are developing normally, one can nearly see the wheels of their minds turning as they explore their worlds. If a baby is not searching for a hidden object by about age 12 months, or exploring objects in a variety of ways (banging, tasting, shaking), he or she may be exhibiting signs of autism.

Toddlers who are developing normally will start solving problems such as moving a chair to a counter to reach an object or stacking objects to make them easier to carry. Normally developing children begin to imitate behavior around age 15 months, such as brushing their hair or trying to use a telephone.

Social and Emotional Delays

Social and emotional delays are also signs of autism. Children who are not interested in “peek a boo” or other social games, or who seem to have no interest in others may have signs of autism. Imaginative games really blossom in the normally developing child around age 3; children use action figures or dolls to enact elaborate stories. While it is not until at least age 3 that children will play cooperatively or collaboratively, a lack of interest in other children or adults at earlier ages can be a sign of autism.

Other signs of autism are a lack of expression of emotion. If a child does express joy, anger, sorrow, or other emotions, he or she may have signs of autism.

Physical Delays

There are many major developmental milestones in children from birth through 5 years. Rolling over, crawling, standing alone, walking, running, climbing, jumping, and throwing are all examples of gross motor skills that, when slow to develop, may indicate autism. Of course all children develop differently, and guidelines are not set in stone, but if a child exhibits a significant delay in, for instance, walking, he or she may be exhibiting signs of autism.

Seek Help Early

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of signs of autism, but rather an overview. If you suspect any developmental delays in your growing child, consult your pediatrician for a developmental screening or assessment appointment.

Resources & References

For more information on warning signs of autism, read this page.

Visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Learn the Signs. Act Early page here.