What does autism look like in children?

August 31, 2018


Children’s difficulties or delays may be expressed or observed as follows:


  • Delays in speech and language.
  • Difficulty understanding others.
  • They may find it hard to communicate what they want and find different ways of making themselves understood (e.g. may use objects or another person’s hand to indicate what they want).
  • Their speech may have an unusual tone, pitch, or accent.
  • They may use language in an unusual way (such as being overly formal or academic or repeating phrases or words)
  • They may not understand non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, body language and gestures.
  • They may have difficulty following instructions and can take information and instructions very literally.
  • They may sometimes appear not to hear at all.
  • They may seem very independent for their age particularly as they may not seek help from others.

Social interaction

  • They may not join in with play with other children.
  • They may appear disinterested in other children or people
  • They tend to prefer to play or be alone.
  • Children don’t often play pretend or make believe as often as same-aged peers.
  • Children with autism rarely bring toys and objects to share or show other children or adults (lack of interest in joint attention)
  • They may not respond to other people’s greetings, or smiles.
  • They may have difficulty with social situations, and understanding social rules (e.g. have difficulty knowing if someone is joking or do not follow the usual social rules for polite behaviour)
  • They may have difficulty understanding or processing others’ emotions, thoughts or actions.
  • They may have difficulty initiating or sustaining eye contact.

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour

  • A strong preference for routine and order is common.
  • They may get very upset when their routines are interrupted.
  • They may experience difficulty with transitioning between activities and into new environments.
  • They may have a special interest which they enjoy talking about a lot, or spend a lot of time doing.
  • They may use behaviour (including challenging behaviour) as a way of communicating due to problems with communication and social interaction.
  • They may appear to be clumsy and have poor motor skills.
  • They may make unusual movements or sounds (commonly known as stimming – for example, they may make unusual movements near their eyes or face).
  • They may also have poor problem-solving or organisational skills.
  • This means they may be hyper or hyposensitive to various stimuli (link to sensory)


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