Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of ASD typically start sometime in the first three years of life. They usually develop from birth (about 4 in 5 cases), however, in about 1 in 5 cases there is a period of normal development first before symptoms begin. Some children with ASD may not seem to have any symptoms until later on, even after they have started school.

The symptoms of ASD vary between individuals. Some people have minimal symptoms whereas others may have severe difficulties. People with ASD have varying levels of intelligence - some have very high IQs.

There are four different groups for symptoms, all of which usually occur in individuals with ASD.

1. Social difficulties

There are different types of problems and not all will occur in each case. These can generally be described as 'not being able to get on with people'.

So the individual may:

  • Seem to be distant
  • Have little or no interest in other people
  • Have no real friends
  • Not understand other people's emotions
  • Prefer being alone
  • Have problems with language and communication

2. Speech

Speech usually develops later than usual. When it does, the language (the use and choice of words) may develop wrongly. The sort of problems that children/young people/adults with ASD may have, include one or more of the following:

  • Not being able to express themselves well
  • Not being able to understand gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice
  • Saying odd things. For example, repeating your words back to you, time and time again
  • Using odd phrases and odd choice of words
  • Sometimes using too many words when one would do
  • Making up their own words
  • Not using their hands to make gestures as they speak
  • Not being able to understand difficult commands

3. Poor imagination

Typically, imaginative play is limited in children with ASD. They tend to do the games and activites that they learn over and over again. Games may remain exactly the same every day. Games are usually those that a younger child would normally play.

4. Unusual behaviours

These include one or more of the following:

  • Mannerisms such as hand-flapping
  • Anger or aggression if routines are changed
  • Actions may be repeated over and over again

Sensory over-arousal and under-arousal

Most individuals with ASD have sensory sensitivities (over and/or under sensitive to sound, sight, taste, smell and touch) which may make it difficult for them to process information in the same way as others.

This information above is taken from the Health and Social Care Board's, Regional Autistic Spectrum Disorder Network for Northern Ireland - Autism - A Guide for families

Page last updated:25 May 2017