Physical Characteristics of Autism

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Physical characteristics of autism in children

While there are many behavioral symptoms of autism, there are also just as many physical characteristics. Some of these physical signs are obvious while others are medical, which can be more difficult to identify. Knowing all of the characteristics of autism, which affects children physically, can help parents understand how this disorder manifests itself in their child.

Overt Physical Signs of Autism

Physical issues that are overt are clear and obvious. You notice them easily when looking at someone. These are some of the symptoms identified by the National Autism Association that are most often associated with autism:

  • Myoclonal jerks, sudden muscle movements
  • Choreiform, jerky and involuntary movements
  • Poor eye-hand coordination
  • Limb apraxia, when it is difficult to make certain movements with an arm or leg
  • Problems with intentional movements
  • Abnormal gait and posture
  • Toe walking
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty with sitting, lying, crawling and/or walking
  • Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing
  • Unusual sweating
  • Abnormal reaction to sensory stimuli
  • Rashes, dermatitis, eczema and/or itching

Covert Physical Issues

Some of the physical signs of autism aren't as obvious, and you would never know they had them unless someone told you. Some of these, according to the National Autism Association, include:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Hyper or hypotonia (muscles too tight or too limp)
  • Decreased muscle strength, particularly in the upper body
  • Incontinence
  • Poor circulation
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Anorexia, feeding problems, vomiting
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Low sulfate levels
  • Low levels of edopeptidase enzymes (essential for breakdown of casein and gluten)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Increased risk for allergies and asthma

Gastrointestinal Problems

The Autism Research Institute (ARI) reports that autistic children may suffer from gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, esophagitis, gastritis, duodenitis, and colitis. Abdominal pain often accompanies these ailments. According to Autism Speaks, 46 to 85% of children with autism have GI disturbances.

Low Sulfate Levels

Low sulfate levels are found in 90% of autistic children, according to ARI. Sulfate aids the GI tract to eliminate toxins and low levels can lead to the disorders mentioned above.

Antioxidant Impairment

Impairment of antioxidant mechanisms and methylation pathways causes activation of free radicals, which can greatly affect the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Children with autism may have abnormal reactions to sensory stimuli.

This can be through the following:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Vestibular system (movement)
  • Proprioception (position)

While autistic individuals take in information normally, their perception of that information is different. This can cause people with this disorder to feel pain or discomfort.

Co-Occurring Conditions

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that many children with autism also suffer from:

  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Epileptic seizures (39% of people with autism have epilepsy and 20 to 30% develop epilepsy by adulthood)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Pica, a strong desire to eat non-food items like rocks and sand

Learn More About Autism Symptoms

Knowledge is power and early autism intervention can maximize the successfulness of your child's treatment. If you notice some of these physical signs of autism in your child, you may be interested in learning more about the behavioral characteristics.

Consult a Medical Professional

The information given in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. If you have concerns about your child, contact his or her doctor for a thorough evaluation to determine if there is a medical or development disorder.

Physical Characteristics of Autism