Autism typically appears by age 3, though diagnosis and intervention can and should begin earlier. Diagnosis is based on observation of the person’s communication, behavior, and developmental levels by a team of professionals. There are no medical tests for autism. However, many of the behaviors of autism are shared by other disorders, so medical tests may be done to rule out other possible disabilities.

Some characteristics of autism expressed by individuals include:

  • Delays in communication skills
  • May be totally nonverbal
  • May use gestures or point to obtain desired object
  • May lead adult by the hand to get desired object
  • May appear not to hear name being called, but may respond to a favorite song in another room
  • May have low or uneven gross motor skills, difficulty jumping or running, may have fine motor difficulties, such as cutting with scissors, holding a pencil
  • May have “bad handwriting”
  • May have intense preoccupation with objects
  • May spin objects or self
  • May have tantrums
  • May have self-injurious behavior
  • May have lack of or little eye contact
  • May have no fear of strangers or dangerous situations
  • May be likely to run away from caregiver in a crowd
  • May not understand how to play or form friendships with peers