What are the signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019
  • Author: James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Answer

Behavioral and developmental features that suggest autism include the following:

  • Developmental regression

  • Absence of protodeclarative pointing, i.e., following the example of an examiner instructing the person to look where the examiner is looking and pointing

  • Abnormal reactions to environmental stimuli

  • Abnormal social interactions

  • Absence of smiling when greeted by parents and other familiar people

  • Absence of typical responses to pain and physical injury

  • Language delays and deviations

  • Absence of symbolic play
  • Repetitive and stereotyped behavior

Regular screening of infants and toddlers for symptoms and signs of autistic disorder is crucial because it allows for early referral of patients for further evaluation and treatment. Siblings of children with autism are at risk for developing traits of autism and even a full-blown diagnosis of autism. Therefore, siblings should also undergo screening not only for autism-related symptoms but also for language delays, learning difficulties, social problems, and anxiety or depressive symptoms. [2]

Having parents fill out the Autism Screening Checklist can identify children who merit further assessment for possible autism. See the image below for a printable version of the checklist.

The significance of answers to individual Autism S The significance of answers to individual Autism Screening Checklist items is as follows: Item 1- A "yes" occurs in healthy children and children with some pervasive developmental disorders; a "no" occurs in children with autism, Rett syndrome, and other developmental disorders. Item 2 - A "yes" occurs in healthy children, not children with autism. Item 3 - A "yes" occurs in healthy children and children with Asperger syndrome (ie, high-functioning autism); a "no" occurs in children with Rett syndrome; children with autism may elicit a "yes" or a "no"; some children with autism never speak; some children with autism may develop speech normally and then experience a regression with the loss of speech. Item 4 - A "yes" occurs in healthy children and children with Asperger syndrome and some other pervasive developmental disorders; a "no" occurs in children with developmental disorders; children with autism may elicit a "yes" or a "no." Items 5-10 - Scores of "yes" occur in some children with autism and in children with other disorders. Item 11 – A "yes" occurs in healthy children; a "no" occurs in some children with autism and in children with other disorders. Items 12, 13 - Scores of "yes" occur in some children with autism and in children with other disorders. Items 14-19 - Scores of "yes" occur in children with schizophrenia and other disorders, not in children with autism, Asperger syndrome, or other autism spectrum disorders. The higher the total score for items 5-10, 12, and 13 on the Autism Screening Checklist, the more likely the presence of an autism spectrum disorder.

See Clinical Presentation for more detail.


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