Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder 

The main features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are problems with social communication and interaction.

See your GP or health visitor if you notice any of the following signs of ASD in your child or if you’re concerned about your child’s development.

Signs of ASD in pre-school children

Spoken language

  • delayed speech development (for example, speaking less than 50 different words by the age of two), or not speaking at all
  • frequent repetition of set words and phrases
  • speech that sounds very monotonous or flat
  • preferring to communicate using single words, despite being able to speak in sentences

Responding to others

  • not responding to their name being called, despite having normal hearing
  • rejecting cuddles initiated by a parent or carer (although they may initiate cuddles themselves)
  • reacting unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else

Interacting with others

  • not being aware of other people’s personal space, or being unusually intolerant of people entering their own personal space
  • little interest in interacting with other people, including children of a similar age
  • not enjoying situations that most children of their age like, such as birthday parties
  • preferring to play alone, rather than asking others to play with them
  • rarely using gestures or facial expressions when communicating
  • avoiding eye contact

Behaviour

  • having repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or flicking their fingers
  • playing with toys in a repetitive and unimaginative way, such as lining blocks up in order of size or colour, rather than using them to build something
  • preferring to have a familiar routine and getting very upset if there are changes to this routine
  • having a strong like or dislike of certain foods based on the texture or colour of the food as much as the taste
  • unusual sensory interests – for example, children with ASD may sniff toys, objects or people inappropriately 

Signs and symptoms of ASD in school-age children

Spoken language

  • preferring to avoid using spoken language
  • speech that sounds very monotonous or flat
  • speaking in pre-learned phrases, rather than putting together individual words to form new sentences
  • seeming to talk "at" people, rather than sharing a two-way conversation

Responding to others

  • taking people’s speech literally and being unable to understand sarcasm, metaphors or figures of speech
  • reacting unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else

Interacting with others

  • not being aware of other people’s personal space, or being unusually intolerant of people entering their own personal space
  • little interest in interacting with other people, including children of a similar age, or having few close friends, despite attempts to form friendships
  • not understanding how people normally interact socially, such as greeting people or wishing them farewell
  • being unable to adapt the tone and content of their speech to different social situations – for example, speaking very formally at a party and then speaking to total strangers in a familiar way
  • not enjoying situations and activities that most children of their age enjoy
  • rarely using gestures or facial expressions when communicating
  • avoiding eye contact

Behaviour

  • repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or flicking their fingers
  • playing in a repetitive and unimaginative way, often preferring to play with objects rather than people
  • developing a highly specific interest in a particular subject or activity
  • preferring to have a familiar routine and getting very upset if there are changes to their normal routine
  • having a strong like or dislike of certain foods based on the texture or colour of the food as much as the taste
  • unusual sensory interests – for example, children with ASD may sniff toys, objects or people inappropriately



Other conditions associated with ASD

People with ASD often have symptoms or aspects of other conditions, such as:

If your child has any of these problems, they may benefit from separate treatment, such as medication or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), in addition to their treatment for ASD.

Read more about treating ASD.

Page last reviewed: 06/01/2016

Next review due: 06/01/2018