Friday, October 15, 2010

Behavior Characteristics of Autism

According to Wikipedia, it is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication and causes restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is three years old.

Another definition states that it is a neurodevelopmental disability, which in normal language is a condition that affects the normal growth of the brain so that the individual has difficulty with day-to-day living.

Autism is one of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which are characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, and severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior.

Asperger syndrome is another and is a milder form of autism. The main difference in autism and asperger syndrome is that asperger syndrome has no substantial delay in language development.

Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, which may or may not be evident in infancy (15 to 24 months). Usually these behaviors will be more obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists some behaviors that might indicate further evaluation is recommended.

These are:

  • Your child 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
  • Does not want to cuddle or be cuddled

Below you will find some of the Characteristic Behaviors that are more obvious in children 24 months and older.

Significant difficulties with social interactions:

  • Has difficulty developing relationships with peers
  • Lack of interest in playing with other children (prefers being alone)
  • Has difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Shows little body language or facial expressions when interacting
  • Seems uninterested in sharing experiences
  • Engages less in give-and-take social interaction with others
  • Inability to share with others

Speech, language, and communication impairments:
  • Lack of conversational reciprocity
  • Inability to understand or use facial expressions and body language
  • Lack of speech, impaired speech or unusual speech
  • Echoes words or phrases (echolalia)

Significant difficulties in the development of play:
  • May use only parts of toys
  • Lines up or stacks objects
  • Obsessive attachment to objects
  • Lacks the ability to pretend play

Unusual responses to normal environmental sensory stimulation (hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity), involving sight, hearing (auditory), taste, smell, touch (tactile), proprioception and vestibular senses are quite common and prominent in autistic children.

These senses are known as sensory integration dysfunction. In sensory integration dysfunction also known as the sensory processing disorder (SPD), the senses are not correctly interpreted by the nervous system. In this situation, the world is perceived differently for this child than it actually exists for neurotypical individuals.

Because the nervous system tells the body how to react to this incorrect information, the behaviors are inappropriate for the given situation.

Some examples of these might be:


  • lack of eye contact
  • distracted by clutter
  • agitated with patterns or too many colors

  • needs a visually stimulating environment (objects that spin and move)
  • tends to look directly into the lights

Hearing (auditory):
  • Easily bothered by noises that may even cause an experience of intense pain

  • May not respond to sounds, including hearing their name when called
  • May make lots of noises (humming, tapping, etc.)
  • Might be insistent on the TV or radio being very loud

  • Gags easily
  • Prefers not to mix foods
  • Has difficulty with certain textures

  • Tends to constantly have something in the mouth (fingers, objects, or food)

  • May cause nausea, vomiting, and headaches
  • May cause agitation

  • Desires strong aromas
  • May sniff people and other objects inappropriately

Touch (tactile):
  • Needs large personal space
  • May be sensitive to some fabrics, seams and even tags
  • May have a dislike of touching certain textures
  • Dislikes being touched
  • If bumped or pushed, could become unusually angry

  • Prefers small spaces
  • May not notice if they are hurt or injured

Proprioception :
  • Seems clumsy and uncoordinated

Vestibular :
  • Due to gravitational insecurity, will have difficulty on stairs or escalators
  • May develop motion sickness easily

  • Will seek movement and be in constant motion (rocking, spinning or swinging)

Repetitive stereotypic behavior known as stimming (may involve any or all of the senses to various degrees in different individuals)
  • Shows interest in very few objects or activities and plays with them in repetitive ways
  • Performs repetitive routines and resists changes in these routines
  • Spends time in repetitive movements such as waving a hand in front of his/her face, rocking, spinning or pacing

Below are some examples of these:

  • Visual - staring at lights, blinking, gazing at fingers, lining up objects
  • Auditory - tapping fingers, snapping fingers, grunting, humming
  • Smell - smelling objects, sniffing people
  • Tactile - scratching, clapping, feeling objects, hair twisting, toe-walking
  • Taste - licking objects, placing objects in mouth
  • Proprioception - teeth grinding, pacing, jumping
  • Vestibular - rocking, hand waving, twirling, spinning, jumping, pacing or other rhythmic, repetitive motions

Difficulties in managing the child:
  • No real fear of dangers
  • Tantrums or no apparent reason
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-mutilation/injurious behavior such as head-banging, self-biting, and self-hitting
  • Laughing and/or crying for no apparent reason
  • Showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
  • Apparent insensitivity to pain
  • Inappropriate response or no response to sound
  • Non-responsive to verbal cues - acts as if deaf

The child's development and abilities will seem very uneven - very poor skills in some areas, and exceptional abilities in others, such as music, memory, arithmetic, calendar arithmetic, drawing or manual dexterity - in the manipulation of puzzles and mechanical objects. Those displaying such skills are sometimes referred to as Savants.

There are two other characteristics found in children with autism. These children will tend to have issues with sleep and with stomach problems that can cause chronic constipation or diarrhea.

Now, having any of these characteristic behaviors does not mean your child has autism. It is, however, recommended that a child displaying any of these behaviors should be seen by a professional who is knowledgeable about autism.

For more information on Autism, please visit my website, found below. You will find pretty much everything you will want or need to know about autism and how to deal with it via the many resources, articles as well as videos found there.

Saylor Niederworder


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