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Early Signs

Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms

Please note: These symptoms vary greatly depending on the age of the child, as well as the severity of the disorder. No child with an autism spectrum disorder will have all these symptoms. Additionally, there is no single symptom that distinguishes autism from other developmental issues. A child may exhibit some of the behaviors listed here without having an autism spectrum disorder. If you are concerned about your child, contact your pediatrician or the Autism Discovery Institute.


  • Delayed development of spoken language/No spoken language
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No gesturing by 12 months (pointing)
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No spontaneous two-word phrases by 24 months
  • If language is present, Echolalia (repeating words or phrases in place of normal language)
  • Speech of unusual quality, such as high-pitched, sing-song-like or monotone
  • Difficulty in expressing needs
  • Difficulty maintaining a conversation

Social Interaction:

  • Attachment to parents, but difficulty relating to others
  • Less interest in pointing, showing, sharing or getting others’ attention; failure to direct caregivers attention to objects or events to share interest
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Not seeking comfort at times of distress
  • May not want cuddling
  • Failure to imitate simple adult movements (such as wave bye-bye or pat-a-cake)
  • Lack of interest in simple social games (such as peek-a-boo)
  • Lack of interest in other children
  • Prefers to be alone
  • Sustained odd play


  • Inappropriate attachment to objects
  • Repetitive and restrictive toy play: limited interest in toys, may play with toys in an unusual manner (lines things up), plays the same each time, limited imagination
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as jumping, walking on toes, hand flapping, holding objects too close to eyes or spinning objects.
  • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
  • Insistence on sameness; resists changes in routine
  • No real fear of dangers
  • Tantrums or displays extreme distress for no apparent reason
  • Uneven fine/gross motor skills (may not kick ball, but can stack blocks)
  • Inappropriate laughing/giggling

Associated Features:

  • Inconsistent response to sounds; deafness may be suspected
  • Over-sensitivity to sound, light or touch
  • Lack of sensitivity to pain
  • Eating limited variety of food
  • Highly developed memory skills
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Self-destructive behavior (such as head-banging or self-biting)
  • Seizure disorder
  • Discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal IQ
  • IQ falling within range of mental retardation