What are the common characteristics
for autism?




Autism is a spectrum disorder. Behavioral symptoms or characteristics for autism can be present from mild to severe. We often hear terms or labels used to describe our loved ones, like autistic, autistic-like, high-functioning or low-functioning.

The important point to remember is our loved ones with autism can learn, make progress and may grow up to function productively with an appropriate education, benefits, supports and services.

Below is a list of common characteristics for autism that both children and adults may show in any combination, level or degree of severity. Read more on the characteristics for autism and how to recognize the signs of autism in young children.

A person with autism usually has problems interacting with people in the following ways:

  • may avoid or lack eye-contact,
  • may not imitate others,
  • may not point or use other hand gestures,
  • may prefer to be alone, and
  • may not understand social cues.


A person with autism will usually have problems communicating, such as:

  • may not speak at all,
  • may be severely language delayed,
  • may have unusual or odd speech patterns (repeat words and phrases heard by others, i.e. tv or videos,
  • may be unable to initiate or engage in a conversation,
  • may be unable to use their imagination during play i.e. pretending a banana is a telephone).


An individual with autism may show restricted, repetitive, or ritualistic behaviors, interests, and activities, for example:

  • may be preoccupied with a narrow range of interest (i.e. dinosaurs, astronomy, trains or roller coasters,
  • may insist on sameness (i.e. prefer certain clothing or eating only certain foods,
  • may line up their toys or objects,
  • may flap their hands, or make odd hand and body gestures,
  • may spin or like to spin objects,
  • may rock themselves,
  • may be self-injurious i.e. head banging,
  • may anger easily or show aggression,
  • may be resistance to change,
  • may become angry or upset if their daily routine changes in any way, and
  • may focus on only a small part of a toy or object).


How is autism defined?

Autism is defined by having a certain set of the behaviors or characteristics for autism listed above. Early intervention is the key to a better life or prognosis. Autism is usually diagnosed around 18 months of age using a screening tool known as the CHAT or Checklist for Autism in Toddlers developed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.


What is Autism?

Return to Autism Information

Return to Home page