What are the Behavioral Traits of Children with Autism?

Uncover the behavioral characteristics of a child with autism and how to support their unique journey.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 8, 2024

What are the Behavioral Traits of Children with Autism?

Understanding Autism

Autism, a complex developmental disorder, is a topic of interest and concern for many parents, educators, and healthcare professionals. This section aims to provide a clear definition and overview of autism, as well as shed light on its prevalence in the United States.

Definition and Overview

Autism, formally known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. These conditions have a wide range of manifestations and severity, hence the term "spectrum."

While every individual with autism is unique, certain behavioral characteristics are commonly observed, thereby aiding in diagnosis and understanding. One of the key characteristics often associated with autism is difficulties with social interaction, which may manifest as struggles with understanding and expressing emotions, difficulties in maintaining conversations, or challenges with building relationships. Similarly, communication difficulties are also commonly seen in autistic children, including delayed language development or complete absence of speech in severe cases.

Another defining characteristic is the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. These may include repetitive movements, rigid adherence to routines, or intense interests in specific topics.

Prevalence in the United States

Autism is prevalent in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. However, it is about four times more common among boys than among girls. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of autism has been steadily rising over the past decades. As of 2020, the CDC estimates that 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

This prevalence underscores the importance of understanding autism, its characteristics, and the means to support those living with this condition. Further sections of this article will delve into the details of the behavioral traits of autistic children, the spectrum of autism disorders, early signs and diagnosis, and strategies for managing and coping with autism.

Behavioral Characteristics of Autism

Autism, a complex neurological and developmental disorder, displays a range of behavioral characteristics. These are primarily noticed in areas of social interaction, communication, and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Social Interaction Challenges

Children with autism often find social interactions challenging. They may struggle to establish and maintain relationships due to difficulties understanding and responding to social cues. For instance, they may not respond when their name is called, avoid eye contact, or have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own.

Additionally, they may show a lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others. For example, a child with autism might not show toys or objects they like to others. They may also show a lack of empathy towards others' feelings or perspectives.

Communication Difficulties

Communication difficulties are another characteristic of autism. Some children with autism may develop speech and language skills late or not at all. Others may start talking at the appropriate age but later lose their language skills.

They may use an unusual tone of voice, have a peculiar rhythm or pitch, or use a formal style of speaking. They may also repeat words or phrases (echolalia), have difficulty initiating or continuing a conversation, or talk excessively about a particular topic of interest.

Moreover, they may struggle with non-verbal communication, such as interpreting gestures, facial expressions, or body language. They may also use fewer gestures themselves and may have difficulty understanding and using the rules of conversation, such as taking turns and using appropriate greetings.

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

Restricted and repetitive behaviors are a prominent feature of autism. Children with autism may display repetitive motor behaviors, such as rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping. They may also develop specific routines or rituals and show distress at changes, however small, in their routine.

Moreover, they may have restricted interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus. For example, they might be obsessed with a specific topic or object and spend an excessive amount of time learning about it or playing with it.

Lastly, they may display unusual responses to sensory input. For example, they might be overly sensitive to light, sound, or touch, or conversely, may be less sensitive to pain or temperature.

In sum, while these behavioral characteristics can provide some insight into how a child with autism might behave, it's important to remember that autism is a spectrum disorder, and every child is unique. Some children may exhibit all these behaviors, while others may only display some. Understanding these characteristics can help in early recognition and intervention, leading to better outcomes for children with autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social interaction, communication, and behavior.

Understanding the Spectrum

The word "spectrum" in ASD refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability that children with these disorders can have. The behavioral characteristics of a child with autism can vary greatly from one child to another. Some children may have mild symptoms and primarily struggle with social interactions, while others may have more severe symptoms and require substantial support in their daily lives.

ASD encompasses several conditions that were previously diagnosed separately, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. Today, these conditions are all called autism spectrum disorder.

Variations in Symptoms and Severity

There are significant variations in the symptoms and severity of ASD among children. While one child might have challenges with social interaction but excel acadically, another might have significant language delays and cognitive impairment.

Typically, ASD is characterized by:

  • Difficulties with social interaction: This could range from difficulty understanding body language and expressions to challenges in making friends and maintaining relationships.
  • Communication difficulties: Some children may have delayed speech development, while others might not talk at all. Some children might have a good grasp of language but struggle to engage in back-and-forth conversation.
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors: This could include repetitive movements, an intense and focused interest in certain topics, or a strict adherence to routines and rituals.

However, it's important to note that no two children with ASD are the same. The severity and combination of symptoms can differ greatly. This complexity is reflected in the concept of a "spectrum" disorder. It's also why individualized treatment plans are so crucial for supporting children with ASD effectively.

In conclusion, ASD is a complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms and severities. Understanding the spectrum nature of autism can help in providing appropriate support and interventions for children with ASD, as well as fostering a greater acceptance and understanding of their unique abilities and challenges.

Early Signs and Diagnosis

Detecting the early signs of autism in children and understanding the diagnostic process are crucial steps towards managing this condition. This section will shed light on how to identify early signs and what the diagnostic process entails.

Identifying Early Signs

Early detection of autism can make a significant difference in a child's development. Here are some common early signs of autism in children:

  1. Social Interaction Difficulties: Children with autism often struggle with social interactions. They may not respond to their name by 12 months of age, show interest in other people or activities, or share enjoyment or interests with others.
  2. Communication Problems: Delayed speech and language skills are often noted in children with autism. They may not speak words by 16 months or phrases by 24 months, have unusual speech patterns, or lose previously acquired speech abilities.
  3. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors: Children with autism may show repetitive behaviors like hand-flapping, rocking, or spinning. They may also be fascinated with parts of objects or insist on following specific routines.

It's important to note that these signs can vary greatly from one child to another. Some children may show signs from birth, while others might develop normally for a few months or years before exhibiting symptoms. If you notice any of these signs, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

Diagnosis Process and Criteria

Autism is typically diagnosed based on a child's behavior and development. The diagnosis process involves two stages:

  1. Developmental Screening: During regular check-ups, a doctor may check the child's development. If any signs of developmental delay are observed, the child will be referred to a specialist for further evaluation.
  2. Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation: This evaluation may include observing the child's behavior, conducting interviews with the parents, and employing specific autism screening tools.

The diagnostic criteria for autism, as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), include:

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
  3. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period.
  4. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

While there's no single definitive test for autism, a thorough evaluation can help in assessing the presence of this condition. It's important to remember that an early diagnosis can help in planning appropriate treatment and interventions to support the child's development.

Managing and Supporting Autism

Once a child has been diagnosed with autism, it's crucial to consider the various management strategies and support resources available. These can significantly aid in improving the child's behavioral characteristics and overall quality of life.

Therapeutic Approaches

Several therapeutic approaches can help manage the behavioral characteristics of a child with autism. These include:

  • Behavioral Therapy: This approach focuses on reinforcing desired behaviors and minimizing harmful or disruptive behaviors. It can help children develop social skills, communication abilities, and self-care routines.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: This therapy aims to enhance the child's communication skills. It can be particularly beneficial for children who struggle with verbal communication or understanding social cues.
  • Occupational Therapy: This therapy works on the development of everyday skills such as dressing, eating, and writing. It can also aid children in learning to manage sensory challenges, which are common in autism.
  • Physical Therapy: This approach can help children with autism who have physical challenges. It can improve their motor skills, balance, and coordination.

Not every child with autism will require all these therapies. The choice of therapy depends on the individual child's symptoms and needs.

Support Systems and Resources

In addition to therapeutic interventions, several support systems and resources can help children with autism and their families. These include:

  • Support Groups: Connecting with other families who have children with autism can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community.
  • Educational Support: Many schools offer special education services or individualized education plans (IEPs) for children with autism. These can help ensure that the child's educational needs are met.
  • Community Resources: Local community centers, libraries, and recreational programs often have resources or activities for children with autism.
  • Online Resources: Numerous online platforms provide information, advice, and virtual communities for families affected by autism.

Remember, managing and supporting a child with autism involves a combination of therapies and resources tailored to the child's unique needs. It's essential to work with healthcare providers, therapists, and educators to create an effective management plan. With the right support, children with autism can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.

Coping with Autism

Dealing with autism, especially in children, requires holistic strategies that involve both the parents and the child. It's essential to adopt methods that not only help manage the behavioral characteristics of a child with autism but also empower the child to navigate their daily life.

Strategies for Parents

Parents of children with autism can adopt various strategies to help manage their child's autism characteristics. These strategies can be broadly grouped into three categories: communication, behavioral management, and support systems.

  1. Communication: It's crucial to understand that children with autism may communicate differently. Parents should learn and adapt to their child's unique communication style. This might mean using visual aids, gestures, or specific language styles.
  2. Behavioral Management: Dealing with restricted and repetitive behaviors, a key characteristic of autism, can be challenging. Parents can use techniques like creating a structured environment, offering choices to the child, and using positive reinforcement to manage such behaviors.
  3. Support Systems: Parents should actively seek support from professionals, such as therapists or counselors, who specialize in autism. They can also join support groups for parents dealing with similar situations. These resources can provide valuable insights and practical strategies.

Empowering Children with Autism

Empowering children with autism involves helping them build their skills and independence. Here are some effective ways to do this:

  1. Skill Building: Encourage the child to develop their interests and skills. This can range from artistic pursuits to sports or academics. It can help boost their confidence and provide an avenue for self-expression.
  2. Social Interaction: Provide opportunities for the child to interact with others. This could be in controlled settings like group therapy or more informal settings like play dates. It can help them form relationships and better understand social norms.
  3. Self-Management: Teach the child strategies to manage their autism traits. This might include using visual schedules to understand daily routines or learning calming techniques for stressful situations.

It's important to remember that each child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Parents should take the time to understand their child's individual needs and strengths. Patience, understanding, and love are the most significant elements when coping with autism.


[1]: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/characteristics-of-individuals-with-an-asd.html

[2]: https://www.hhs.texas.gov/services/disability/autism/autism-training-opportunities/autism-spectrum-disorders-training-program-first-responders/module-4-common-behavior-characteristics-individuals-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd

[3]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28218869/

[4]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autistic-behavior-or-misbehavior-4047387

[5]: https://journalppw.com/index.php/jpsp/article/view/4204