There are some common indicators that a referral may be required to check for autism. Problems with social interactions (in terms of verbal expression, understanding language and interpreting social cues such as body language), inflexibility and sensory overwhelm are all typical signs.

They differ slightly according to the age of the person; young children (already described on another page on this site), older children and adults.

Please note: obviously, you cannot diagnose your own child without involving medical professionals. Any formal assessment or diagnosis will usually involve a GP referral plus a detailed assessment process involving pediatrician, psychologist, possibly also a speech and language therapist.

In young children:
  • Suspicion of hearing problems: the child does not respond to their name when called
  • Social interaction minimal: avoids eye contact, does not smile back when you smile at them, does not talk as much as other children
  • Inflexible: gets upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound
  • Repetitive behaviours: repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands or rocking back and forth, repeating the same (limited number of) phrases
In older children:
  • Lack on empathy for / interest in others: does not seem to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • Socially isolated: finds it hard to make friends or prefers to be on their own
  • Limited power to express feelings verbally: finds it hard to say how they feel
  • Difficulty in understanding anything more subtle than the most literal language: for example, they may not understand phrases like “break a leg”
  • Inflexible: relies on a predictable daily routine and gets very upset if it changes
  • “Narrow and deep” interests: has a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
In adults:

Most of the signs of autism in adulthood revolve around difficulties with social interaction, such as:

  • Finds it difficult to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • Gets very anxious about social situations
  • Finds it hard to make friends or prefers to be alone
  • Seems outspoken, rude or uninterested in others without intending to
  • Does not understand social etiquette, such as not talking over people
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Gets too close to other people, or gets very upset if someone touches or gets too close
  • Finds it difficult to express feelings

Other signs can manifest, in terms of aural and sensory processing, such as:

  • Takes things very literally – for example, not understanding sarcasm or phrases like “I’m all ears”
  • Notices patterns, small details, smells or sounds that others do not

There can also be inflexibility which can lead to anxiety, caused by a sense of losing control over one’s environment:

  • Needs to plan things carefully before doing them
  • Has the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes

As in children, autistic adults typically have a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities. Interests tend to be limited in number but extremely focused, to the extent that others may consider the person obsessed with a certain subject. On a positive note, this can be an extremely beneficial attribute particularly in science, engineering and computing roles. Part of the excellent book “Neurotribes” charts the lives and successes of many of the 20th Century’s most accomplished scientists such as Nicolai Tesla, who displayed most of the symptoms of autism listed above but were never diagnosed as such in their eras.  

Adapted from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/signs

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