The major characteristics of autism are behavior problems, communication problems, social interaction problems and sensory sensitivity problems. These characteristics of autism prevail in the children as a spectrum which includes a wide range of disorders. As such it is called autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The characteristics of autism and the severity (mild to severe) of the autistic individuals vary widely across these four core areas.
The peculiarity of ASD is that the sign and symptoms of these disorders in one individual does not match with others. No two autistic individuals have identical characteristics of autism.
“If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” Dr. Stephen M. Shore
There are different types of developmental disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Bipolar Disorders, Seizure Disorders, Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome and so on. Autism is a kind of developmental disorders among them.
At the early life, an autistic child faces a delay in different developmental milestone and gradually starts showing different characteristics of autism as s/he grows up. Similarly, my autistic son Mahi was delayed in different developmental milestones in his childhood and subsequently different characteristics of autism prevailed in him in course of time.
In this article, I would like to discuss the different characteristics of autism which has been observed in my autistic son at different times in his 21 years of life.
This article will help you to identify the characteristics of autism in your child and facilitate early intervention for his/her speedy development.
Behavior problem is one of the main characteristics of autism. The autistic individuals show inconsistency in their behavioral pattern in comparison to the normal people. There are some autistic individuals like my son, who apparently cannot be identified as autistic. Sometimes he looks very normal in behavior. But if he is observed keenly, people can identify his autistic characteristics. Some of the common features of the behavioral problems in the autistic individuals are described below.
The common food-related problems in autistic individuals are excessive food selectivity by type and texture and the rituals surrounding eating and food refusal. Dominick et al interviewed the parents of 67 children with autism and found that most eating problems among the children with autism involved the child’s preference for particular foods (58%). It was also found that over 30% of the autism children showed a preference for foods based on texture, while 14% were sensitive to color and only 16% displayed preference based on taste. My baby always prefers to have rich foods, fast foods, and tasty foods. He always prefers to have fried rice and egg in the breakfast.
In the following video, you can see that he is showing his frustration as he is given home-made bread and vegetables in his breakfast instead of his favorite fried rice and egg.
Abnormal Sleep Pattern
Almost every autism individual faces sleep problems at night. Researchers estimate that between 40% and 80% of children with autism have sleeping difficulty. Either they do not sleep most of the time at night or they wake up after sleeping sometimes at the first half of the night and never sleep again. Some autistic individuals go to sleep late and do not get up from the sleep in the early morning.
My son has a severe sleep problem and he does not sleep almost the whole night, but sleeps in the morning and frequently misses the school bus. He sometimes sleeps at daytime.
Repetitive or Stereotype behavior
Repetitive or stereotype behaviors are the movement of the body or any other objects which are very common in children with autism. These behaviors include arms flapping, rocking, spinning, twirling, tapping, gazing, eye rolling etc as the common features.
My Mahi exhibits many stereotyped behaviors since his childhood. He used to spin frequently around him. At the right side photo you can see, Mahi is rolling his eyeball. One of his stereotype behavior is shown in a video at the end of this article.
Attraction to sameness
The autism individuals generally like sameness. They cannot accept any changes in their life like changes in daily routine, daily food menu, changes in clothing, changes in the furniture settings inside their room, changes of caregivers/teachers or even a change in route while coming back from a journey.
“Autism: where the ‘randomness of life’ collides and clashes with an individual’s need for the sameness.” Eileen Miller
One day we went for a visit to a place about 8 hour’s journey from our residence. While going towards the visiting place we followed a common route. But while coming back, we followed a different route which was new to Mahi. When we changed the route, Mahi could understand it and he started crying and throwing tantrum. He continued crying for two to three hours till we came back to the earlier route.
Frustration or emotion
The autistic individuals cannot express their desires and needs to the others, so they become frustrated or emotional very quickly. They do not know how to regulate or vent their frustrations or emotions. So, they express their frustrations or emotions in a very odd or unusual way. Sometimes it leads to disruptive or physically aggressive behavior.
Here I would like to show you a video of my autism boy, Mahi where he is showing his frustration in a very odd manner.
Warning: Please keep the volume at the low level while watching the video.
A tantrum is an outburst of not getting something that the child wants or needs. The autism individuals sometimes throw an excessive tantrum for no logical reason. These characteristics of autistic individuals are sometimes associated with aggression and destruction of properties. A study of Dominick et al reported after interviewing the parents of 67 children with autism that two-thirds of the children have periods of severe tantrums and about one-third had a history of aggression with tantrums.
Some of the autistic individuals are involved in self-injurious behavior like biting own self or others, throwing himself/herself on the floor and hitting head against the wall. In a study by Dominick et al, it was observed that self-injury was in almost one-third of the children with ASD. Among them, 65% were involved in head banging, 50% in hitting oneself, and 30% biting oneself.
The autistic children face incident, accident or injury frequently as they cannot perceive any threat or danger. Generally, they do not have any fear of the real danger. My autistic son plays with matchbox and lighters and thereby caused an accidental fire in a number of times. He also puts his head out of the car/bus while traveling. He does not have the ability to understand that something can hit his head from outside.
Attention deficit and pre-occupation
Most of the time the autism individuals remain pre-occupied/busy in their own created world so they cannot give any attention to the others. As such they do not understand what is happening in the surroundings. They do not like to come out of their own world rather they expect that other would enter into their world to understand them.
Most of the autism individuals have significant learning disabilities or difficulties. Their learning is grossly affected by some of their behavior problems like an excessive tantrum, self-stimulation, repetitive behavior, attention deficit, and sleep problems.
Uneven skills development
An autism individual generally becomes extraordinary in one or two works but lacking in many other areas of life. For example, some of the autistic individuals show their savant skills or extremely high abilities in specific areas like memorization, calendar calculation, art, music or math.
“My autism is the reason I’m in college and successful. It’s the reason I’m good in math and science. It’s the reason I care.” Jacob Barnett, Sixteen-year-old math and physics prodigy.
My autism angel Ferdous Mahi is very good in artwork and computer typing (both in English & Bengali), but not good in study and unable to remember anything. Till today, he cannot memorize our home address after learning it time and again.
Work as perfectionist
Generally, the autism individuals become a perfectionist in the job he likes most. He performs that work very attentively with utmost perfection. For example, when my Mahi does artworks, he never throws colors here and there and never spoils the art papers. When he is typing anything on the computer, he does it perfectly without any mistake, though it takes longer time than the normal.
Communication means passing a meaningful message by somebody to other expressing his desires and needs. The communication problem is one of the main characteristics of autism individuals. Almost 50% of the autistic individuals cannot make communication with others. There are two types of autistic children: verbal and non-verbal. Verbal are those who can speak fluently and nonverbal are those who cannot speak at all. There are some autistic individuals who can speak words but cannot frame any sentence. Both the verbal and non-verbal autistic children face different types of difficulties communicating with others.
Some of the features of the communication problems of the autistic individuals are described below.
Problems with verbal autistic children
Some of the autistic children are verbal and can speak fluently. But they cannot establish any communication with others by their speaking capability. They just talk like a parrot. They cannot involve in any conversation with other persons. They do not understand the tone of other’s voice, facial expressions, and gestures. They do not understand the feelings of the others.
There are so many autistic individuals who face ‘Echolalia’ in the different ages of their life. Echolalia is the verbatim repetition or imitation of the words or sounds that the other people say around the autistic child. For example, if we tell an autistic child “Have you taken your dinner?”. The child repeats the same sentence “Have you taken your dinner?” instead of telling “Yes” or “No”. This is called ‘Echolalia’. There are two types of Echolalia, immediate echolalia and delayed echolalia. Immediate echolalia is such when an autistic child repeats the sentence just after hearing it from any individual just like the above-mentioned example. Delayed echolalia is the repetition of the sentence which he has heard earlier in any of his favorite programs on the TV, radio, video or youtube.
Problems with nonverbal autistic children
Some of the autistic children cannot speak at all, they are non-verbal. They do not understand the tone of other’s voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Some autism individuals try to communicate with others through gestures like pointing, waving or showing objects to others.
My son Ferdous Mahi is a semi-verbal type of autism boy as he has got limited speech. He can tell many words but cannot express those in sentences. He tells one or two words only to communicate his individual needs. We guess, he understands many things that we talk or we order/request him to do. But he cannot reciprocate. Sometimes he talks alone some meaningless words and repeats those words again and again.
Social Interaction Problems
Autism individuals cannot make any friendship or a relationship to other individuals like all other human beings as they cannot communicate with others. They do not know how to interact or make friendship with others rather want to remain isolated. Some of the autism individuals though want to make friends but do not know how to do it. Besides language, some other major ways of interacting with others are body language, facial expression, eye contact, and gestures (nonverbal expressions). But the autism individuals are lacking on all of these skills.
The verbal autistic individuals, sometimes, may have very good language skills, but they cannot understand others expectation during a conversation. Most of the times, they do not understand their needs and thereby they are incapable of expressing their needs to others as well. Some of the common barriers of the social interactions are described below.
Language is the main barrier of social interaction for the autistic individuals. About 40% of the autistic individuals are generally non-verbal which is the main impediment of their social interaction.
Lack of facial expression
Facial expression is a very important aspect of social interaction. The autism children do not understand anybody’s facial expression or they cannot make any facial expression to transmit some messages to others.
Unable to understand Tone of Voice
The autistic children generally fail to understand the tone of the other’s voice. If somebody is bullying him or shouting at him, he will have no response to it as he is incapable of understanding it.
Lack of eye contact
Eye contact is an essential element of social interaction. Lack of direct eye contact is one of the most common characteristics associated with the individuals with autism spectrum disorder. According to the study, looking someone in the eye can result in unpleasant overstimulation of the brain for people with autism. The eye contact of our autistic son Mahi is very poor. He never looks at anybody’s eyes.
Fail to show or understand any gestures
They are failed to show social gesture like showing or pointing thing to others and waving or nodding their heads to other. Even they cannot reciprocate any gesture on their own.
Cannot make an attachment or relationship
They do not know how to make an attachment or relationship with others. The autistic individuals generally prefer to remain alone as they love loneliness. They are not capable of playing with friends or peers.
Can not share jokes or stories
They never understand any joke or any story. So they can not enjoy it or share it with somebody. They never make any query or become inquisitive about anything on their own. They are also unable to share other people’s enjoyment and interest.
Deficit in joint attention
Joint attention is an important way of making social interaction. For example, two persons are looking at one interesting object and inviting others to look at it. The other persons present there generally looks at the object due to his strong social interaction. But the autistic child may not participate in it as he is lacking in joint attention.
Sensory Sensitivity Problems
Sensory sensitivity is a common and prominent problem in autistic individuals. Sensory sensitivities are either over-sensitive (also called hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (also called hyposensitive) to the sensations like sound, touch, taste, smell, light, color, temperature and pain. Autistic individuals might be either over-sensitive or under-sensitive or mixed-sensitive to these sensations which might stimulate them.
“I think the core criterion is social awkwardness, but the sensory issues are the serious problems in many, many cases of autism, and they make it impossible to operate in the environment where you’re supposed to be social.”—Temple Grandin
Some of the sensory sensitiveness of the autistic children are discussed below:
Reaction to sensations
The autistic individuals have a strong reaction to one or more of the sensations like sound, touch, taste, smell, light, color, and temperature. Some of them are very over reactive in bright sunshine, loud noise, texture (touch), taste and smell or odors. Either they have got intense interest in or intense aversion to these sensations. My autistic son Mahi is very sensitive to sound. He can not tolerate the high volume sound. He uses to cover his ears if he hears any such sound.
Lack of cognitive and motor skills
Cognitive skills are the ability of the brain to understand, learn, think, remember and memorize some problem-solving technique whereas the motor skills are the motions when the brain, nervous system and the muscles work together. Autistic children are generally lacking in these cognitive/motor skills. My Mahi is lacking largely in the cognitive/motor skills. For example, due to lacking in these skills, he cannot do a simple job like tie up his shoelaces.
Autistic children sometimes face meltdown when he is overwhelmed with too many information at a time. His brain cannot process all these sensory information. For example, there is a birthday party in the home and many guests are present there, the music system is on and the autistic child is called for cutting the cake. Much information is flooded in his brain. In this situation, the child might get upset and have a sensory meltdown that may come down as a form of yelling, crying, lashing out or running away.
Lack of logical empathy
They do not have any logical empathy for somebody’s pain or suffering. One day Mahi’s mother slipped on the floor and got hurt seriously. He was present there and he did not have any empathy for it. Rather he was laughing remembering the scene of fall down.
Pay affection or being affectionate
The autistic children do not know how to show love and affection to others or how to react if somebody shows love and affection to them. My autistic baby feels irritated if somebody embraces or hugs him. He also does allow anybody to embrace or hug him. He always rejects the cuddling, embrace, hugs or even the body touch.
Insensitivity to pain or joy
Most of the autistic children are insensitive to any pain, sorrow or joy. Mahi does not know how to react if he gets any pain. He never cries by getting any pain if it is not extremely painful. The sorrows never touch him. He becomes joyful if he is given good foods or taken for a long drive. But there is no expression of the joy; we only understand his happiness.
Now, I will show you a video on the typical behavioral problem of my autistic boy, Ferdous Mahi. Every day at about 11 pm he starts walking to and fro in front of the TV and utters some meaningless words for about 15/20 minutes. In the video you can see, he is uttering ‘es-case’ and some other words repeatedly which do not have any meaning. Once he touched the TV and uttered ‘TV broken’. Few day back he has broken our one LED TV. Maybe he is memorizing it.
There are many types of developmental disorders but all do not fall under autism spectrum disorders. There are four core characteristics of autism spectrum disorders which are behavior problems, communication problems, social interaction problems, and sensory problems. All these characteristics of autism are discussed above elaborately.
There is no similarity in the characteristics of autism of one child to another. Every autistic individual has got unique types of characteristics. These characteristics are more or less interrelated. There are many peculiar characteristic exhibits in the autistic children. From here you will be able to identify the characteristics of autism in your child.
There is no way to recover from these disabilities. However, a significant improvement in the characteristics of autism individuals can be achieved if we can ensure timely diagnosis, early intervention, and proper care. Mahi has improved a lot since his childhood. His every autistic characteristic is improving every day with the support of his parents and teachers. I want to conclude my writing with a great quote-
“Do not fear people with autism, embrace them. Do not spite people with autism, unite them. Do not deny people with autism, accept them for then their abilities will shine.”—Paul Isaacs
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