What does autism look like

Despite how frequently autism (or autism spectrum disorder) is discussed in classrooms and in the media, many are still not sure what autism symptoms looks like. 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). This means it’s highly likely that either you have a child with autism or you have a relative or friend that has a child on the autism spectrum. Seth’s Mom wants to offer help for parents with disabled children recently diagnosed with autism, and parents who think their children may have autism, recognize autism symptoms.

Autism symptoms

One thing we’ve heard a number of times at Seth’s Mom is confusion between autism and other types of disabilities. For example, autism is not an intellectual disability. An autistic can be very intelligent and sometimes have above average or can even be gifted. Another example, autism is not bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood highs and lows that can last for days. Although some autistics can have severe tantrums that can last for hours, others can have a flat affect and seem detached or stand-offish.

It’s important to keep in mind the uniqueness of each case. Autism symptoms do not look the same for everybody. What autism looks like is as unique as the autistic person. There are some general symptoms that are associated with autism. The symptoms, the severity, and the frequency are very individualized. An autistic child may exhibit some or many of these symptoms:

  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
  • not look at objects when another person points at them
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using) (CDC)

How early will my child show signs of autism

Signs of autism can be recognized in children as young as 14 months. One of the earliest indicators is how the child plays with toys. They can line-up toys according to color or size or both. You may notice that your child does not make eye contact when you hold him. Or you may notice that your child prefers playing alone rather than playing with you. The below video from Kennedy Krieger Institute (a world renown organization) has a wonderful tutorial for recognizing early autism symptoms.



Share your story

It can be cathartic for you and helpful to so many other parents and families to share your story about when your child was diagnosed. So many feel ashamed or embarrassed. Some feel relieved and celebrate that they know what lies ahead. No matter what, it is important that we not feel alone.

Contact us about sharing your story through SETH TALK. Click here and here to listen to other SETH TALKS. We look forward to hearing from you.



Your child is diagnosed with autism. CONGRATULATIONS!

SETH’S MOM – Autism Media Page

Autism Awareness Month. Inclusion. Accommodations.

TOPIC: Vaccinations and autism. Let’s talk.


Easterseals hosts respite weekends

Mom. Dad. You’re messing up… and it’s OK. Disabilities and parenting perfection. And imperfection.

Support jargon: What is ABA?



Share your story with the community. Click here to contact us about doing a SETH TALK.

Interested in becoming a guest writer for Seth’s Mom. Click here to contact us.



External Resources

Administration for Community Living

Pathfinders for Autism

Disability Scoop