Symptoms of Autism
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability.
- Signs typically appear during early childhood, affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others.
- Autism is a “spectrum condition” and affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
- There is no known single cause of autism
- Increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports leads to significantly improved outcomes.
- Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities.
- Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides.
- The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity
- Autism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.
- In March 2023 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 36 births in the United States based on statistics gathered in 2020.
Know the signs: Early identification can change lives
- The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder may be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but they usually become clearer during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part of a well-baby or well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your baby’s progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
- Does not babble or coo by 12 months
- Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
- Does not say single words by 16 months
- Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
- Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Any of these five “red flags” does not mean your child has autism. But because the disorder’s symptoms vary so widely, a child showing these behaviors should be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team. This team might include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professionals who are knowledgeable about autism.
For more information on developmental milestones, visit the CDC’s “Know the Signs. Act Early” site.
Each person with am autism spectrum disorder is different
Each person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unique and will have different abilities and disabilities.. Symptoms caused by ASDs might be very mild in one person and more involved in another Individual who is more challenged by autism.
- Some individuals challenged by autism, present with a serious cognitive disability, sensory problems and symptoms of extremely repetitive and unusual behaviors including tantrums, self-injury, defensiveness and aggression. Without appropriate intervention, these symptoms may be very persistent and difficult to change. Living or working with a person significantly disabled by autism can be very challenging, requiring tremendous patience and understanding of the condition.
- Individuals with mild autism conditions, however, may seem more like they have personality differences making it challenging to form relationships.
The primary symptoms of autism include problems with communication and social interaction as well as repetitive interests and activities.
Strengths exhibited by some ndividuals with autism
- Non-verbal reasoning skills
- Reading skills
- Perceptual motor skills
- Drawing skills
- Computer interest and skills
- Exceptional memory
- Visual Spatial abilities
- Music skills
Challenges faced by some individuals with autism
The above exceptional skills may be combined with subtle or significant delays in other areas of development. Individuals with the diagnosis may demonstrate some degree of the following:
- Impairment in Social relationships
- Deficits in communication/language
- Perseveration on interests and activities
- Dependence on routine
- Abnormal responses to sensory stimulation
- Behaviour problems
- Variability of intellectual functioning
- Uneven development profile
- Difficulties in sleeping, toileting and eating
- Immune irregularities
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
Diagnosis of Autism
Evaluation based on observation
When parents or support providers become concerned that their child is not following a typical developmental course, they turn to experts, including psychologists, educators and medical professionals, for a diagnosis.
Some people with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing issues, or problems with hearing or vision. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism. It is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, as an accurate and early autism diagnosis can provide the basis for an appropriate educational and treatment program.
Other medical conditions or syndromes, such as sensory processing disorder, can present symptoms that are confusingly similar to autism’s. This is known as differential diagnosis.
There are many differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination, or school evaluation, of a disability. A medical diagnosis is made by a physician based on an assessment of symptoms and diagnostic tests. A medical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, for instance, is most frequently made by a physician according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5, released 2013) of the American Psychological Association. This manual guides physicians in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder according to a specific number of symptoms.
A brief observation in a single setting cannot present a true picture of someone’s abilities and behaviors.
The person’s developmental history and input from parents, caregivers and/or teachers are important components of an accurate diagnosis.
An educational determination is made by a multidisciplinary evaluation team of various school professionals. The evaluation results are reviewed by a team of qualified professionals and the parents to determine whether a student qualifies for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Hawkins, 2009).
Places in Western New York to get an Autism Diagnosis
Children’s Guild Autism Spectrum Disorder Center in Buffalo
Located at Oishei Children’s Outpatient Center, the ASD center takes a team-based approach to evaluation. During one visit, each child is seen by a developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, and child psychologist. After the visit, the team discusses the child and determines the diagnosis and/or need for any additional testing or services. The Center has a full time social worker and nurse and offers a monthly parent group, newly diagnosed sessions and information resources for parents of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. 716-323-6560
Levine Autism Clinic at Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester
Levine Autism Clinic is part of the National Autism Treatment Network. They provide evaluation and diagnosis of children who are suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder. After the diagnosis, they also provide comprehensive and co-ordinated care , monitoring development, progress, treating health problems associate with ASD and assessing and treating behavioral problems. They also link families to needed resources and connect them to community supports. 585-275-2986
Contact the Autism Society WNY Chapter for a list of private individuals/agencies who also do diagnosis. 716-633-2275 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There are several medical conditions that have been shown to be significantly more prevalent in those with autism spectrum disorder ASD than the general population.
Autism is a whole body disorder diagnosed by what is observable, however these signs and symptoms are often the result of underlying co-occuring conditions. Knowing what to look for is the first step in getting the most appropriate treatment.
Some common co-occuring conditions found in those with autism:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Seizure disorders
- Ear infections
- Respiratory infections
- Migraine headaches
- Allergy disorder (including non IgE-mediated disorders or food intolerances)
At times, it may be difficult for a health care practitioner to properly assess a patient with an ASD. The parent or caregiver may not have known to watch for certain signs because they were told that ‘it was just the autism’. There may be communication barriers or challenging behaviors preventing an obvious observation of a symptom, or perhaps the patient they themselves don’t know where the pain originates from. It is then that it becomes even more important for the practitioner to be able to recognize some of the behaviors indicating an underlying comorbid condition.
Behaviours which may indicate other underlying conditions
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Covering ears with hands
- Loss of acquired skills
- Irritability or moodiness
- Frequent night waking or difficulty falling asleep
- Teeth grinding
- Walking on toes
- Tantrums or oppositional behaviour
- Self-injurious behaviour (biting, hitting, slapping, head-banging, etc.)
- Chewing on clothes or objects
- Vocal expressions (moaning, whining, groaning, sighing)
- Posturing or seeking pressure
- Repetitive rocking or other movements
Common sources of pain and discomfort (chronic, progressive or static)
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
This information excerpted from the Medical Comorbidities in Autism Spectrum Disorder, A Primer for Health Care Professionals and Policy Makers, July 2014.
Facts & Statistics
- About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)
- Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 59 births. (CDC, 2014)
- More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)
- Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). (CDC, 2014) Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. (CDC, 2008)
- Prevalence has increased by 6-15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010. (Based on biennial numbers from the CDC)
- Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually. (Buescher et al., 2014)
- A majority of costs in the U.S. are in adult services – $175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children. (Buescher et al., 2014)
- Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism. 2007 Sep;11(5):453-63; The economic consequences of autistic spectrum disorder among children in a Swedish municipality. Järbrink K1.)
- 1 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom has autism spectrum disorder. (Brugha T.S. et al., 2011)
- The U.S. cost of autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability, or $1.4 million for a person without intellectual disability. (Buescher et al., 2014)
- 35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. (Shattuck et al., 2012)
- It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism. (Lavelle et al., 2014) (The average cost of educating a student is about $12,000 – NCES, 2014)
- In June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed, meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed. (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed.) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014)
As Early as 18 months
Research has found that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they are much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need. The earlier an ASD is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.
Developmental Screening Tools
Screening tools are designed to help identify children who might have developmental delays. Screening tools do not provide conclusive evidence of developmental delays and do not result in diagnoses. A positive screening result should be followed up with your child’s health care provider immediately if you think something is wrong.
Types of Screening Tools
There are many different developmental screening tools that may be admistered by professionals, community service providers and in some cases parents. These include:
- Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
- Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
- Parent’s Evaluation of Development Status (PEDS)
- Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
- Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)
- Observation tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-G)
- The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
- The Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R)
This list is not exhaustive, and other tests are available.
For your convenience, Autism Canada has four online screening tools available based on the age of the individual being screened.