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How Do Kids With Autism Behave?

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

Autism spectrum disorders are a collection of developmental disabilities that can cause atypical behaviors, including communication and social struggles. Autism is called a spectrum disorder because symptoms can run the gamut from quite mild to very severe. The brains of autistic children process information differently than kids without ASDs. Autism is the most severe developmental disability, according to the American Psychological Association.


Autism typically appears before age 3 and persists throughout life; no cure exists as of March 2013. Signs of autism can appear in infancy in some cases. Up to 50 percent of parents of children with ASDs say they detected problems before age 1 and 80 percent to 90 percent noticed problems by age 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some autistic kids seem to be off to good start developmentally until 1 1/2 to 2 years of age when they stop learning new skills and experience setbacks in areas in which they'd become proficient. For example, about 25 percent to 30 percent of kids with an ASD can speak a few words at 12 to 18 months of age but lose them, notes the CDC.

Warning Signs

Signs of autism include failing to respond to their name by age 1, ignoring rather than showing interest by pointing to typically interesting objects such as a bus or a dog at 14 months, complete disinterest in make-believe play at 18 months. Young children with autism might also exhibit delayed language and verbal skills, shun physical contact and fail to make eye contact. Autistic kids exhibit peculiar behaviors such as biting their hands or fingers, saying the same sentence over and over to find a sense calm, and banging their heads. Autistic kids might be oblivious to the feelings of others and have a narrow range of interests.

Social and Commuication Abnormalities

Autistic children have a tough time when it comes to socialization and making friends. It's a struggle to start or keep up a conversation, points out the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Children with ASDs generally prefer to play alone, interact with others only to reach a goal such as asking a classmate to move so he can reach a crayon or a toy. Autism can stand in the way of those with the disorder who might wish to develop friendships but they don't know how. Because they generally have more trouble learning to share and take turns than other kids, they might be rejected by their peers or classmates and labeled a brat. The potential to "get in your face" is an annoying trait in some autistic kids because they have little or no concept or respect for boundaries. Flapping their hands, spinning in circles and rocking their bodies are among common obsessive behaviors in autistic children that other kids may find weird or disturbing.


The sooner, the better when it comes to treating autism, advises the NINDS. A comprehensive treatment plan would include communication therapy, behavioral interventions to improve specific problem areas such as learning to share and medications to manage symptoms, including an obsessive need for routine. For example, many autistic children have an obsessive need for consistency. Changes at home or in the classroom might trigger an explosive temper tantrum. Medications for treatment of autism-related symptoms, including anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder might also be prescribed by your child's doctor.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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