Autism has some common difficulties and behaviours that you might notice in your child, or recognise in yourself if you are an adult who has not been diagnosed. These include:
- Difficulty communicating, expressing emotions and thoughts, or delays in language development. The person might show signs of nonverbal communication, not use hand gestures, not smile or respond to others, or have delayed or limited speech development.
- Social and emotional difficulties. Your child might not react to others’ facial expressions or emotions, not play with other children, not make eye contact, or lose control of their emotions frequently.
- Strong reactions to sensory input, such as smells, bright lights or loud noises.
- Hyper-focus and repetitive behaviours and interests like only playing with a particular toy, wanting to talk or learn about one topic, or following routines rigidly, and becoming distressed when these change.
- Body movements like flapping hands, jerking limbs, or walking on their toes.
Not everyone with autism will show difficulty in all of these areas, and signs vary across ages, and genders. Research suggests autism is diagnosed more often in boys and men because it presents differently and is less well understood in girls. Many people are not diagnosed with autism until adulthood, at which point they may require supported independent living services, depending on the severity.
If you think you or your child show signs of autism, your doctor can support you through diagnosis. They might refer you to specialists experienced in diagnosing autism, including psychiatrists, paediatricians, psychologists or speech pathologists.
Assessment and diagnosis is different for everyone, depending on your age and signs of autism. Diagnosis can involve assessments and questions about mental and emotional health, childhood and development, and tests to diagnose communication and social difficulties.
In cases where autism has other effects on your child’s health, the doctor might refer you for tests to rule out or identify other conditions.
The long-term course of autism depends on the effects it has on a person’s life, and the supports they receive to manage these effects.