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Decoding Differences| A Guide to Autism Symptoms

A group of wooden letters on a table

Imagine a world where social cues are cryptic messages, noises are overwhelming blasts, and routines provide a comforting anchor. This is the reality for many individuals with autism. Autism, sometimes referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex developmental condition affecting how people perceive and interact with the world.

We will delve into the spectrum of autism symptoms, exploring their variations across different age groups and severity levels. 

Early signs: Autism symptoms in toddlers

The first 24 months of life are crucial for recognizing early signs of autism. While development varies, certain red flags might indicate a need for further evaluation. Here's what to watch for:

Social interaction: avoidance of eye contact, persistent preference for solitude, difficulty understanding other people’s feelings. A lack of interest in interacting with others can be an early indicator.

Communication delays: delayed speech milestones or unusual speech patterns, like scripting or echolalia (repeating words or phrases), are common signs.

Repetitive behaviors: repetitive movements like rocking, flapping hands, or lining up toys might be ways toddlers with autism self-regulate.

Sensory sensitivities: unusual and intense reactions to sensory experiences such as certain sounds, textures, lights, or smells. This is a hallmark symptom of autism.

The spectrum widens: Autism symptoms in adults

Autism doesn't disappear in adulthood. While some symptoms may lessen over time, adults with autism still face challenges. Here are some key signs to look for:

  • Social difficulties: difficulty understanding social cues, sarcasm, or nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstandings and social isolation in adults.
  • Rigid routines: a strong preference for routine and difficulty adapting to changes can be a significant hurdle.
  • Restricted interests: intense focus on specific topics or hobbies, often to the exclusion of others, is a common characteristic.
  • Sensory processing issues: adults with autism might still experience sensory sensitivities that impact daily life.
  • Communication challenges: while some adults with autism may be nonverbal, others might struggle with expressing themselves clearly or interpreting the nuances of language.

Beyond labels: High-functioning autism symptoms

The term "high-functioning autism" is no longer the preferred clinical term. However, it's helpful to understand how autism can present with varying degrees of severity. People with high-functioning autism, also referred to as Asperger's syndrome, often have normal intelligence and language skills. However, they might still experience challenges in the following areas:

  • Social interaction: difficulty with social cues, nonverbal communication, or understanding humor can make social situations awkward.
  • Nonverbal communication: limited facial expressions, unusual body language, or trouble making eye contact are common.
  • Restricted interests: intense emphasis on specific issues might cause social awkwardness because others may not share those interests.
  • Sensory sensitivities: sensory overload can be a significant issue, even for individuals with high-functioning autism.

A spectrum of challenges: Mild autism symptoms

Autism exists on a spectrum, and the severity of symptoms can vary greatly. People with mild autism might experience some of the following:

  • Social awkwardness: difficulty understanding social cues or unspoken rules can lead to social awkwardness.
  • Limited social interests: they may favor solitary pursuits and struggle to connect with others at a deeper level.
  • Organizational difficulties: challenges with planning, prioritizing, and completing tasks can be present.
  • Sensory sensitivities: while not as severe as in other cases, some sensory sensitivities might still be present.

Autism presents challenges, but it's also important to acknowledge the unique strengths often associated with the condition. People with autism may possess:

  • Exceptional attention to detail and focus. 
  • Strong visual-spatial skills. 
  • Honesty and directness. 
  • Talents in specific areas, like art, music, or math.

By recognizing and cultivating these strengths, we may help people with autism thrive.


Autism symptoms | Autism Speaks

Types of Autism: Terminology That’s No Longer Used Today (

Signs of autism in adults - NHS (

Signs of autism in children - NHS (

Autism Spectrum Disorder - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (


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