Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


Autism is a disability that causes problems with communication and social interaction.  Symptoms usually start before age three and may cause delays or deficits in many skills that develop from infancy to adulthood. Different people with autism can have very different symptoms. Autism is a spectrum disorder. One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have severe symptoms. “Autism spectrum disorder” and “autism” can mean the same thing.  Currently, the autism spectrum disorder category includes: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). 

Autism is one of the categories of disability specified in IDEA. This means that a child with autism may be eligible for special education and related services if it adversely affects their education.

The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following areas: Communication skills, social skills, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped behavior.

  • Language may be slow to develop
  • Speech may be delayed, or there may be no speech at all
  • May be no effort to use nonverbal communication (pointing and gesturing)
  • May use fewer gestures, and those they use are limited in function
  • May struggle to receptively or expressively label places, people, objects
  • If verbal, might not know how to start, sustain, or end conversations
  • May frequently use echolalia (repeating words of others), which may also be delayed
  • Content and grammar may be delayed, while speech skills might not be delayed
  • May display unusual tone of voice (e.g. monotone, robotic, or high pitch)
  • May have a rigid understanding of words, and have difficulty with the concept that objects can have more than one name
  • Less likely to share experiences
  • Less likely to make bids for social attention (e.g. “Watch me!”)
  • May reverse pronouns
  • May not respond to name consistently
  • Might not be able to express wants and needs
  • May not follow directions
  • May appear not to hear at times
  • May not point or wave “bye-bye”
  • May not accurately interpret puns, sarcasm, idioms, etc.
  • Less likely to make comments (e.g. “Look at that”), or ask questions (“What’s your name?”)

  • Difficulties sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
  • Eye contact may not be as frequent or last as long as in other children
  • May not appear to notice others and seems to tune people out
  • Often do not build relationships with others their age at a developmental level expected
  • Rarely share attention with others, such as by showing something, pointing, or pointing out interests or accomplishments
  • Does not demonstrate emotional reciprocity (taking turns)
  • Infrequently take turns in play or conversation
  • Rarely imitate the actions of others in play or otherwise
  • May not respond to own name
  • May seem lonely
  • Difficulty in making and maintaining friendships
  • Does not consistently smile when smiled at
  • May seem to prefer to play alone
  • May have difficulty with imaginative/pretend play
  • May be overly active, uncooperative, or resistant
  • Does not know how to play with toys the way they were intended
  • Seems to be in his / her “own world”
  • Is not interested in other children

Restrictive, Repetitive, and Stereotyped Behavior  
  • May have an unusually strong or focused interest or fixation (such as a television program, certain toys, or games)
  • May repeat words, questions, or phrases and cannot move on to other topics
  • May repeat certain actions and get “stuck” doing the same things over and over and cannot move on to other things (e.g. closing doors, flicking lights)
  • May obsessively follow daily routines or schedules and be unable or unwilling to be flexible in changing these routines
  • May have a difficult time transitioning to a different activity
  • May express high levels of anxiety regarding specific objects or events (e.g. weather events, specific machines)
  • May play in repetitive ways
  • May demonstrate repetitive body or other motor movements, such as spinning, rocking, or finger flicking
  • May show intense interest in parts of objects, as opposed to using an entire toy or object
  • May have movements that result in self-injury, such as scratching eyes, skin picking, biting hands, and head banging
  • May demonstrate increased sensitivity to certain textures, tastes, and smells
  • May demonstrate increased sensitivity to visual and / or auditory stimulation
  • May seek out additional sensory stimulation in atypical ways (e.g. licking objects, eating non-foods, smelling objects, closing one eye to gaze at object)
  • May resist certain food groups or food textures
  • May spend a lot of time lining things up or putting things in piles or rows
  • May have odd movement patterns
  • May seem very independent for his/her age
  • May seem to do things “early” compared to other children
  • May walk on his / her toes
  • May display tantrums that are atypical in terms of frequency, intensity, and / or duration

Strategies for Autism Spectrum Disorder