Signs and symptoms – How does ASD present? 

Children with ASD have difficulties in two main areas: social communication and repetitive behaviour. These present differently at different ages.  

In infants and pre-schoolers, the first indicators of ASD may be an unusual or delayed pattern of communication and limited ability to interact or engage in play with others. Children may be slow to learn to speak or use words in an unusual way.

They may rely less on nonverbal ways of communicating, such as eye contact, pointing and gestures. Carers may notice particular habits in play such as repeating the same action or body movement or exploring unusual aspects of toys.  

Some children need a strict routine in order to feel comfortable. Others develop a special interest that dominates their play. A child can also start to show unusual sensitivity or lack of sensitivity to sounds, textures, pain or light. They may start to become fussy about food.

Some children present with difficulties in primary school. They may be good at communicating their needs and ideas, but struggle to share information or join in conversations. Similarly, they may prefer to follow their own ideas in play rather than take up the ideas of others. Many children have an intense special interest or series of special interests.

Changing from one activity to another and dealing with unexpected changes can be harder for children with ASD.

Heightened sensory sensitivity can lead to discomfort in classrooms or noisy environments.

Children may fall behind academically and find it difficult to be part of social groups such as sports or clubs.

ASD may not be considered until adolescence or adulthood in some people.

These people may have a history of difficulty making lasting friendships, experience high anxiety and have a very strong focus on particular ideas or interests.

In others, a different diagnosis has been considered first but the person appears to have extra support needs. Common diagnoses that can overlap with ASD are Attention Deficit Disorder, language delay, Intellectual Disability, eating and anxiety disorders. Girls with ASD are more likely to present later.

Each child with ASD is different, with a different pattern of strengths and difficulties. The most important next step is to try to develop a comprehensive understanding of a child’s needs and abilities.

What other problems can arise for children with ASD?

There are a range of conditions that may occur alongside ASD. They include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Global Developmental Delay
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Anxiety and mood disorders
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Learning difficulties
  • Motor co-ordination difficulties
  • Eating and sleeping difficulties.
  • Medical and genetic disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome

These conditions require separate consideration and management strategies. They have an impact on the overall progress for the child with ASD 

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