Characteristics of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

September 27, 2023

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) usually presents itself in early childhood. This complex developmental disorder can affect people very differently.

In general, autism spectrum disorder is evident through difficulties in communication and social interaction. Unusual behavior patterns such as extreme sensitivities to senses of sight, touch, or smell are common as are repetitive behaviors and pervasive interests.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about autism spectrum disorder is that it is different for every autistic individual. The severity of these symptoms can range too, making it an even greater challenge. While there is no cure, early diagnosis and intervention may provide the best outcomes for children with autism.

Photo of Father and Child

What Are the 3 Main Characteristics of Autism?

Since autism spectrum disorder refers to the way this complex neurodevelopmental disorder impacts someone’s life, it is important to know what the characteristics are for identifying it. Through this identification, a child’s specific needs can be met more thoroughly.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association was created to provide standardized criteria to diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to this manual, there are 3 main characteristics of autism. 

Impaired Communication

Children with ASD may be delayed in speaking their language. They may completely lack the development of it and gestures altogether. 

Impaired Social Interactions

Another common trait among those with autism spectrum disorder is the lack of social communication skills, emotional reciprocity, and lack of spontaneous sharing. They also have difficulty in developing relationships with peers. 


Stereotypy, or the inappropriate movements of repetition that are automatically reinforced, is another common characteristic for those with autism spectrum disorder.

What Are Some of the Characteristics of Autism in Children?

Even though every child with autism disorder is different from other children with ASD, the age of onset usually appears between the ages of 1 and 3. Warning signs may provide an indication that a comprehensive assessment should be performed.

If your child is between 12 months and 18 months, these are the signs to watch for:

  • Doesn’t speak even in single words
  • Doesn’t respond to their name
  • Limited eye contact
  • Lack of communication and babbling in their language
  • Lack of spontaneous imitation
  • Doesn’t engage with pointing at objects to inquire or look in the directions others point
  • May have an unusual way to respond to sound stimuli
  • Absence of interest in interacting through simple interactive games

For children around 24 months of age, here is what the warning signs may look like:

  • Doesn’t speak sentences of two or more words that aren’t repetitions of what others have said in native language
  • Will avoid eye contact or not maintain it when spoken to
  • Doesn’t follow objects with eyes
  • Lack of engagement or interest in shared games
  • Doesn’t enjoy shared relationships with others

As children grow with autism spectrum disorder, they may develop more signs:

  • Speech delays or not speaking at all
  • Lost ability to speak words or phrases previously learned
  • Grows extremely attached to daily routine and angers at changes
  • Lack of understanding of idiom expressions due to taking things literally

What Are the Most Common Behaviors Associated with Autism Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder relates to brain development, affecting how a person perceives things and socializes with others. This causes problems when interacting socially as well as communicating. Those with ASD often enact repetitive patterns with the symptoms ranging widely in type and severity.

Autism spectrum disorders also include conditions that were once deemed separate including Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, autism, and pervasive developmental disorder. Often Asperger’s syndrome is still used to refer to autism disorder in mild cases. There is still much to learn about autism spectrum disorder, and fascinatingly, it can even be associated with a present genetic disorder like meningitis, fragile X syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis, to name a few. However, it has not been found to be associated with childhood vaccines.

ASD starts in early childhood and in time, causes problems functioning socially in school and later on in life, at work. Most children with autism show signs within the first year. Children and even adults may be evaluated for autism spectrum disorder when they exhibit these behaviors. You can look for these autism symptoms to see if you want to get testing for autism. 

Constant Challenges in Social Settings

Challenges with social interaction are among the first that children with autism will usually show. Children with this condition have trouble with social communication in the form of back-and-forth conversations. They also have difficulty catching on to social cues, forming relationships, and other social interactions.

As an example, you may notice your child refuses to ask questions when they are prompted or be unable to hold a conversation. They may also avoid making eye contact and struggle to make friends. Having an evaluation is the first step. If you receive an autism diagnosis, it will help you learn how to adjust and help your child. 

Unusual Reactions When Senses Are Stimulated

The senses we all experience, including sound, taste, smell, look, or feel, can cause children with autism to react adversely. It may be due to sensory overload and how the brain processes these different stimuli, also called hypersensitivity. An example of this would be a child that has heightened sensitivities to loud noises. A reaction to the way things sound isn’t an indication of the presence of autism in and of itself, though coupled with other characteristics, you shouldn’t ignore it.

Obsessing Actions

Another one of the symptoms of autism is to fixate on something to the point of obsession. This could be an object, topic, or an activity. Generally, people with ASD that exhibit these characteristics will find comfort in a topic that interests them or doing something that brings them comfort. For children, it is often obsessive behavior over a toy, like a toy car, or doing repetitive things like spinning wheels or flipping levers. While it’s different for each of them, all people with this condition share a need for routine. Disrupting it in any way, such as not doing that activity they fixate on could cause them to act out.

Issues with Communication

Common characteristics between all autism cases seem to be problems with communicating. However, it will affect them differently. Some may be minimally verbal while others have delayed language development or language skills. Your child may have trouble conveying facial expressions or using the right tone of voice. They may repeat phrases, talk to themselves, or even invent their own language.

Speech and facial expression are such a huge part of human activity, which is why some parents may be falsely making assumptions based on early behavior. However, if you notice persistent issues in this realm along with the other common characteristics, you will want to see about having them evaluated. 

Photo of a Child Sitting Alone

Other Common Characteristics That May Help Diagnose ASD

Paying attention to certain behaviors your child exhibits in daily living, play skills, and social skills can help you determine if your child needs evaluation for an autism diagnosis. In addition to the core symptoms listed above, these other characteristics are noteworthy. 

Impulsive or Aggressive Actions

In small children, some aggression is considered normal. However, if your child is prone to unprovoked outbursts, this could be a key indication to diagnose ASD. 

Short Attention Span

Certainly, many children at an early age don’t pay attention for long. However, if your child has a short attention span coupled with other behaviors, it is a common sign for people with ASD. 

Strange Eating Habits

Children that are reluctant to eat certain foods or have a revulsion to only a few foods should be monitored. While it seems many small children may be picky, with ASD, it is different than simple preference. 

Unusual Sleeping Patterns

Children that have difficulty with sleep should also be evaluated, if not for autism, then to rule out something else. However, it is common for kids with autism spectrum disorder to have unusual sleeping habits.

Lack of Awareness

Whether for their own surroundings or for their own self, kids with autism often lack awareness. As a result, you may need to devote more attention in certain situations to keep them safe. 

Can a Child With Level 1 Autism Live a Normal Life?

People with autism will face challenges each day, but they can lead normal lives. Understanding the levels of autism can help you to determine the right support and resources for your child.

Level 1 is considered high functioning, the mildest form of autism. They may have difficulty in social situations, struggle to maintain personal relationships, and find it hard to have a conversation.

Those diagnosed with level 2 will engage with more repetitive behaviors and be a bit more obvious. They struggle to cope with changes in routine, which typically results in more challenging behavior from hand flapping to shrill screeching.

With level 3, strong support is required. A child at this level will often be nonverbal and have a limited response to others. The behaviors they exhibit interfere with their ability to function. 

Can a Person with an Autism Diagnosis Live on Their Own?

Because of the variations of the spectrum of autism, some people may be able to live independently while others will have too much difficulty. Their struggles with behavior and social skills may require them to have continued support.

Some may go on to find and maintain employment and be able to manage simple everyday household tasks like cooking or cleaning. Others need assistance and disability because this disorder impedes them from being fully independent. 

From early months of age to adulthood, it will all depend upon the individual strengths and challenges faced. Autism may make things more difficult for a person, but there are support systems in place to help.

Additionally, it should be noted that autism is considered a disability. This means that there may be kids or adults that have this disorder that can access disability benefits. However, despite it being a disability, you may face difficulty in acquiring the benefits you deserve.

If you are trying to claim disability benefits for yourself or someone you love with autism, it is important to speak with a Los Angeles long term disability lawyer. Talk to the law firm of Pisegna and Zimmerman, LLC to get the help you need.

Category: Blog