Charlie’s Gift Center for Autism and Related Disorders > What is Autism?

What is Autism and What Are Its Symptoms?

Autism is defined by the Autism Society of America as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.”
It is important to note that because Autism is a Spectrum Disorder meaning that , children with a diagnosis of Autism present with a great variance in the symptoms that range from mild to severe. Children may experience some, or any combination of, the following symptoms:

• Difficulty with changes to surroundings or routine; does not tolerate changes or transitions well
• Frequent temper tantrums, described by parents as “meltdowns”
• Atypical emotional systems (e.g., inappropriate laughing, crying, or may have flat affect)
• Lacks empathy, seeing the world only from their own perspective
• Lack of imitation of others or imaginative play
• Socially withdrawn or socially awkward; shows no interest in making friends or seems to want to make friends, but does not know how to initiate social interactions
• Delayed speech and language delay
• Unresponsive to commands or questions, seems to be “in their own world”
• Frequently makes irrelevant remarks
• Does not initiate conversations
• Shows little expressive language
• Difficulty with abstract language and concepts
• Improper use of pronouns, statements, and questions
• Repeats or echoes a word or phrase just spoken by another person (echolalia)
• Unusual tone or rhythm of speech
• Repetitive and organized behaviors, both in play and daily living skills such as lining toys up in a row
• Can be preoccupied with one or only a few narrow interests
• Very good at rote memory tasks, such as repeating a list of items or facts
• Shows an attachment to unusual objects such as car parts, tree branches, telephones, etc.
• Experiences sensory processing sensitivities (hypo- or hyper-reactive)
• Participates in self-stimulatory behaviors (e.g., hand flapping, pacing, vocalizations, spinning, or switching a light on and off repeatedly)
• Very poor diet (e.g, may only eat starches or may limit food to a particular color preference)
• Frequently walks on tip-toes as toddler
• Falls or trips often; described as “clumsy”
• Very high levels of activity for long periods of time
• Has uneven skill development; some skills are normal or superior for their age while others show significant delay
• Exhibits changing behaviors such as aggression, self-injury (e.g., headbanging, scratching, or biting), or severe social withdrawal

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We understand the unique gift and challenge of living with Autism. If you or someone you know is struggling for answers, please contact us at 630-810-1200.