What is Autism?

It is important to realise that each child with autism is different from the next so the descriptions in this information sheet should only be taken as a general guide. Nevertheless, the common problems affecting social interaction, communication and imagination and the repetitive behaviour are common to all.

A Range of Indicators

Children with autism exhibit a wide range of behaviours. Essentially though, the child will have difficulty relating to others and making friends; difficulty in communicating (some children may not talk at all); and be unable to engage in imaginative play. Other signs include obsessions, fears, a lack of awareness of danger, ritualistic play and behaviour, inappropriate eye contact, hypersensitivity to sound, light etc., spinning objects and hand flapping. A child does not need to show all these signs to be diagnosed as autistic and some children who do not have autism may exhibit some of these behaviours.


Some children never develop spoken language and their understanding may be limited. Others develop speech although this may begin much later than normal. Some of these children will develop echolalia – repeating words that may have little meaning for the child or repeating what you say. For example, when asking a child if he wants a drink, he may reply ‘Do you want a drink?’ The child may also use the words ‘Do you want a drink?’ to actually ask for a drink. He may also repeat words or phrases that he has heard in the past – including phrases from television programmes. For those children whose language develops beyond echolalia, they may have great difficulty with grammar and word meanings.

Non-verbal communication is also impaired. Young children may even have difficulty in understanding simple gestures such as nodding and shaking the head. They also have great difficulty in using such language, although they often develop simple skills as they grow older. The basic rule is to be clear, concise and consistent.

Signs of Autism

  • At 1 year: No babbling or pointing

  • At 16 months: No words, or words have disappeared

  • At 2 years: No phrases, or phrases have dropped

  • Repeating words or phrases in place of normal responsive language (Echolalia)

  • Repetitive behaviour

  • Little or no eye contact

  • Enjoys movement and is calmer when rocking, swinging or jumping or shaking body or head

  • Flapping hands, Toe-walking or biting

  • Displaying odd play such as playing with doors, fixated with spinning objects, stacking toys, lining up toys

  • Laughing or showing distress for reasons not apparent to others

  • Unexplainable excessive crying

  • Not using age appropriate words when communicating

  • Aggression which is unexplained

  • Difficulty in expressing needs

  • Little or no smiling

  • Prefers to be alone, aloof manner

  • Over sensitive to certain everyday sounds such as vacuum cleaner or dog barking

  • Resisting change to set routine

  • Delay in spoken language

  • Your child likes playing on their own-solitary play

  • Appearing to be completely indifferent to others feeling