What is Autism? 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental and neurological disorder that affects one’s social interaction and communication abilities and can also be characterised by repetitive and restricted behaviours and interests. ASD can be diagnosed at any age, but it is called a developmental disorder because symptoms can usually be seen within the first two years of life. It is also worth noting that people without ASD can have some of the symptoms, but for someone with diagnosable ASD, significant challenges can be faced in relationships, school, and other areas of life.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms related to interaction and communication, as well as behaviours and interests, can vary somewhat depending on the age of the child and their gender.

In younger children, ASD can be observed through symptoms such as:

  • Not maintaining eye contact
  • Not reacting when their name is called by 9 months of age
  • Not smiling when smiled at or showing facial expressions like anger, sadness or surprise by 9 months of age
  • Getting upset in reaction to certain sensory stimuli such as a taste, smell, or sound 
  • Not speaking as much as other children
  • Not noticing other children or trying to play with them
  • Not taking part in pretend play
  • Not using gestures or using them rarely, such as pointing and waving
  • Repeating the same phrases or words over and over
  • Repetitive behaviours such as flapping their hands
  • Always plays with toys the same way

Symptoms which can be observed in older children include:

  • Difficulty in understanding what others are feeling or thinking
  • Difficulty expressing how they are feeling
  • Unusual speech 
  • Preferring a strict daily routine and becoming upset when changes occur
  • Having an intense interest in a specific topic or activity
  • Difficulty in making friends or preferring to be on their own

ASD in Girls

ASD can be harder to spot in girls, as they are more able to hide their symptoms by copying the behaviours of other children. They also show fewer repetitive behaviours and are better able to handle social situations. In addition to this, they may react to difficult situations by becoming withdrawn instead of upset.

Receiving a diagnosis of ASD for your child can be both relieving, and difficult to accept and adjust to. However, the earlier a diagnosis is received the earlier intervention can be given, and this can make a significant difference in the child’s functioning and future development.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Lisa Scalpello is a trainee professional offering therapy sessions to clients who are experiencing struggles in different areas of life such as work, studies or relationships, that put a strain on mental health. She is trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Lord C, Risi S, DiLavore PS, Shulman C, Thurm A, Pickles A. Autism from 2 to 9 years of age. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;63(6):694-701.

Hyman SL, Levey SE, Myers SM, Council on Children with Disabilities, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Identification, Evaluation, and Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatrics. 2020 Jan;145(1).