Autism Symptoms and FAQs

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ever since Hannah was about 18 months old, we would look at her and think, “She’s definitely different from the other girls.” But we are firm believers in allowing children to develop and mature at their own pace, not expecting every child to fit a preconceived mold. So we allowed her to “be herself” for several years until we noticed that she was no longer progressing, but regressing. She was losing skills that she previously had attained.

Now, some fluctuation in development is typical. None of us learns in a steady, constant manner; we all have ups and downs of learning, forgetting, and relearning. And some of Hannah’s behaviors were typical of a developing child. Just because a child does one or two of the items listed below doesn’t mean that the child has autism. But taken as a whole package, a warning bell should sound if a child exhibits these symptoms. Here is a description of Hannah’s behavior just after her fourth birthday.

  • Lack of eye contact; she wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.
  • Played in her own little world; not “connected” with what was going on around her.
  • Lay on her bed for hours looking at a toy; not playing with it in the usual sense, just turning it over and over and looking at it.
  • No pretend play; didn’t know how to pretend.
  • Didn’t acknowledge people coming or going around her.
  • Quit using and saying words that she had previously known and used.
  • Didn’t carry on a conversation or put together her own words to communicate.
    Instead she would recite lines from computer programs and music cassette tapes, sometimes at applicable moments, most often just “out of the blue” and not on topic. (The technical term is “delayed echolalia.”)
  • Lined up blocks, books, puzzles, and toys instead of playing with them.
  • Would not look at a book being read to her; played with her own book or toy instead.
  • Would not point to anything.
  • Would not look at something we pointed to; looked at our finger instead.
  • Would have sporadic outbursts of yelling “no, no, no” for unknown reasons, not just when challenged but in the middle of playing by herself.
  • Would stand still for hugs, but not open her arms to return them.
  • Looked at her plate during meal times or sat with her arm over her face.
  • Would grab our hand and pull us to what she wanted, instead of verbally requesting it.
  • Would repeat a sequence continually in playing. For example, jump off the step, touch the table, put the stuffed animal under the chair, take the stuffed animal out from under the chair, return to the step; jump off the step, touch the table, etc.
  • Was fascinated with lights and ceiling fans; she would stare at them for several minutes at a time.
  • Entranced with fire. (She was singing for several days “Happy Birthday to you, now blow out the candles.” At her fourth birthday, she sat staring at the flames and wouldn’t respond to our encouragement to blow out the candles. After the flames were extinguished, she returned to singing and reciting the phrases.)
  • Used a high-pitched voice to resist when challenged.

A spectrum is a wide range, and children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may exhibit a wide range of symptoms. Some autistic children will repeat a physical movement because it is stimulating to them (sometimes called “stimming”). For example, they may flap their hands or bang their heads over and over. Others have sensory problems such as a lack of pain or an aversion to certain textures. For a comprehensive overview of ASD and many therapies available, read Facing Autism by Lynn Hamilton.

A lot of Hannah’s symptoms could be summarized by these two categories: delayed language development and lack of social perception. Many times such delays are caused by the children’s not “connecting” to the world around them. Most children pick up subtle “clues” from the people around them as they use language and interact. You’ve probably heard the saying, “More things are caught than are taught.” That statement is true for most children, but not for children with ASD.


Q: What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A: A condition in which neurological damage to the brain causes developmental delays. The spectrum includes conditions ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

Q: What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A: (See Symptoms section above.)

Q: What causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A: I don’t know. Many theories exist but no definite consensus has been reached.

Q: Is there a cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A: Not that I know of. However, I’ve read about some children who have recovered enough to no longer retain the diagnosis of ASD. Their recoveries were the result of early detection and immediate therapy (some strictly dietary, some strictly ABA, some both).

Note: Nothing on this Web site should be construed as expert medical advice. The information found here simply summarizes one person’s experiences.