Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), an autistic child experiences limitations in the areas of social communication and interaction in addition to restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. These deficits may affect their active participation in academic settings, undermining their overall academic outcomes.
Autistic children have three key characteristics.
For example, children might:
- not use eye contact to get someone’s attention
- not use words or gestures to communicate
- be confused by language and take things literally.
For example, children might collect only sticks or play only with cars.
For example, children might:
- make repetitive noises like grunts, throat-clearing, or squealing
- do repetitive movements like body-rocking or hand-flapping
- do things like flicking a light switch repeatedly.
Autistic children might also be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to taste, touch, sight, and sounds. For example, they might:
- be easily upset by certain sounds
- eat only foods with a certain texture
- seek vibrating objects like the washing machine
- flutter fingers to the side of their eyes to watch the light flicker.
Autistic children have these characteristics because their brains have developed differently from other children’s brains.
Causes of autism
The exact cause of autism is not known. There might be several causes, including brain development and genetic factors.
The brain of a child with autism tends to grow faster than average during early childhood, especially during the first three years of life. The reason for the rapid growth of the brain is not known. Although evidence strongly suggests a genetic basis to autism, it’s unlikely that one specific gene is responsible for autism. It’s more likely that several genes combine and act together. Researchers have found many possible genes that might play a role in the development of autism.
Signs of autism
Autism red flags usually appear before the child is 2 years old.
In the first year of life, signs include differences in children’s social and communication development. For example, children who are later diagnosed with autism might:
- not smile in response to other people
- not make eye contact
- not use gestures.
By the time the child is 2 years, signs of autism become more noticeable as the child is expected to start talking and playing with other children. For example, a child with autism might:
- not be interested in playing with other children
- repeat everything they hear
- talk in an unusual tone of voice.
Some children have many early signs, whereas others have only a few. The number of signs varies according to child’s age and the effect that autism has on his everyday lives.
Signs of autism in an older child and teenagers might become noticeable when the child have difficulty adjusting to new social situations in the school environment – for example, understanding and following instructions, making friends, and having age-appropriate interests.