Behavior Characteristics of Autism

boy lining up toy cars

Every person on the autism spectrum is unique and displays different characteristics. However, restricted and repetitive behavior is one of the three core diagnostic criteria in the American Psychiatric Association DSM-V for the disorder. This can manifest itself in many different ways, but some are more common than others.

Lining Up or Arranging Objects

According to Autism Speaks, arranging objects in a specific order or pattern is very common in people with autism. This can take the form of a child lining up toy cars in long, orderly rows instead of driving them. An adult might line up paper clips on his desk or have a very specific order for a collection of items. This orderly arrangement can be very important to the individual, and he may become upset if it's disrupted.

Fixation on Routines

Routine is important to a lot of people, but for many individuals with ASD, it's almost essential. The National Autistic Society reports these rigid routines are a common characteristic in those diagnosed with autism. A child may need to eat from the same cereal bowl every morning, and a teen may find it essential to get ready for school in exactly the same way every day. This routine dependence can make change difficult, including transitioning from one activity to the next.

boy eating vegetables

Restricted Diet

According to a review of the literature published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, up to 83 percent of individuals on the spectrum had a restricted diet of certain acceptable foods. In many cases, this restricted diet was due to a sensitivity to specific textures, especially "mushy" food items like mashed potatoes.

Rocking, Bouncing, and Twirling

Rocking back and forth, twirling in circles, or bouncing and jumping up and down are common behaviors in people with ASD, according to Autism Speaks. This movement can appear disruptive, but it may actually serve a purpose for the person doing it. The motion may be calming and regulating, allowing the individual to focus during exciting or stressful moments.

Extreme Reactions to Sensory Stimuli

WebMD reports that extreme sensitivity to textures, lights, sounds, and other environmental stimuli is common in people with autism. This can take the form of a child screaming uncontrollably at the sound of hand dryers in a public restroom or an adult refusing to wear shirts with tags on the inside of the collar.

Hand and Finger Flapping

Hand flapping is another classic behavioral symptom of ASD, according to WebMD. This flapping can involve moving the whole hand, or even both hands, rapidly in front of the face, or it can be simply a fluttering of the fingers in front of the eyes. Either way, it may help the individual regulate herself when she is overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Repeating Things

Echolalia, or the repetition of sounds, words, or phrases, is a common verbal behavior characteristic of autism, according American Speach and Hearing Association (ASHA). In fact, this repetition may actually serve to help people on the spectrum begin using language in a functional, meaningful way. In many kids and adults with ASD, it may be a way to connect and interact with others, as well as a reassuring verbal routine.

Apparent Insensitivity to Pain or Temperature

People on the autism spectrum may appear not to feel pain or react to extreme cold or heat. A review of the literature published in the Scientific World Journal found 40 percent of individuals with ASD did not show a typical pain response. However, research indicates this behavior may not reflect an actual lack of sensitivity; the person likely feels pain but does not show it in typical ways.

Using Objects in Unusual Ways

Many children and adults on the spectrum may use objects in ways that are not related to their dedicated purpose, reports A classic sign of this is a toddler spinning the wheels on a toy car rather than pretending to drive the vehicle. However, it can also take the form of collecting household objects, such as coasters or utensils.

Intense Preoccupations or Obsessions

The Mayo Clinic reports intense fixations or obsessions are a frequent symptom of ASD. These especially strong interests can take the form of memorizing facts and details, researching and reading exclusively about one topic, or talking at length about this subject. Often, the obsession brings great joy to the individual on the spectrum, but it can also interfere with social interactions.

Behavior Is Easy to Spot

It's important to remember every person with ASD is different. They all have challenges in the core areas of the disorder, including communication, social skills, and behavior. The behavioral signs are some of the easiest to spot, so knowing these characteristics can help you identify someone who may benefit from help. If you have concerns about ASD in yourself or your child, it's always a good idea to discuss those worries with a doctor.

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Behavior Characteristics of Autism