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Characteristics of autism spectrum disorder

There are many characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, but simply having one or two of these characteristics does not mean a student or child has autism. It takes a combination of characteristics that effect a student's or child's every day life to be diagnosed with autism. A diagnosis must come from a medical professional before a student can receive services for autism. There is an educational diagnosis of autism, but it is highly uncommon.

To be diagnosed with autism, a student must exhibit behaviors from three different categories. Depending on how severely effected the student is and how many characteristics he/she has, depends on what part of the spectrum he/she will fall. The three categories are social interaction, communication, and behavioral.

According to Children's Mercy Hospital these are the most common signs of autism spectrum disorders.

Social interaction:

  • poor eye contact
  • lack of interest in peers (will only play by him/herself)
  • doesn't show affection (hugs and kisses)
  • lack of social/emotional reciprocity
  • doesn't point to objects in books or environment
  • no response to parent's smiles or facial expressions
  • lack of joint attention (looking at objects that parents/others are pointing to)
  • doesn't bring objects or toys to parents to share interest or enjoyment


  • little or no babbling, pointing to objects, or using gestures or saying words
  • repeating words or phrases over and over (parrot like speech, echolalia)
  • does not respond to his/her name
  • cannot start or hold a conversation with others
  • no longer saying words or using words they once did


  • repetitive behaviors (rocking, spinning (themselves or objects), flapping hands, twirling fingers)
  • little or no fear of common dangers (past the age where it's developmentally appropriate to have those fears) (i.e. running into the street, climbing unsafely)
  • lack of imaginative play or pretend play
  • difficulty with change in routine (inflexibility)
  • looks at toys and objects at odd angles or plays with parts of toys (the tires on cars)
  • restricts or limited interests, abnormal interests
  • high pain tolerance
  • may be overly sensitive to lights/sounds/touch/smells/textures

Children with autism will not exhibit all of these characteristics, but will exhibit some and at least one in each category. If you have concerns about a student talk openly to the parents and give them a checklist to go over with their child's primary care physician. The earlier therapy begins the greater strides the student can make.

The M-Chat-R is a checklist that may be used for free for educational purposes. This is a great way for parents to evaluate their children if they have concerns about their child's behavior. The checklist and results can be given to the primary doctor if the results show a risk of autism.

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