People on the autism spectrum generally have problems in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior. However, since it is a spectrum disability, the symptoms and severity vary greatly. Also, two individuals with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and exhibit strikingly different skills.

People with severe autism have marked impairments or a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people. Signs of autism might become apparent in some children in early infancy. On the other hand, some children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive or lose language skills they've already acquired.

Though each individual with autism will have a unique pattern of behavior, there are some common symptoms are below:

Social skills

  • The person fails to respond to his or her name
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Appears not to hear you at times
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Appears unaware of others' feelings
  • Seems to prefer playing alone — retreats into his or her own world
  • Doesn't ask for help or request things


  • The person doesn't speak or has delayed speech
  • Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences
  • Doesn't make eye contact when making requests
  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm — may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech
  • Can't start a conversation or keep one going
  • May repeat words or phrases verbatim, but doesn't understand how to use them
  • Doesn't appear to understand simple questions or directions


The person performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping

  • Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change
  • Moves constantly
  • May be fascinated by details of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car, but doesn't understand the "big picture" of the subject
  • May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch, and yet oblivious to pain
  • Does not engage in imitative or make-believe play
  • May have odd food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or craving items that are not food, such as chalk or dirt
  • May perform activities that could cause self-harm, such as head banging

Most children with autism are slow learners. They take time to acquire new skills and may show signs of lower than normal intelligence. However, some children with autism have normal to high intelligence. These children despite having trouble communicating, applying what they know in everyday life and adjusting in social situations, learn very quickly. Some have exceptional skills in a specific areas, such as art, math or music.