What are people with autism like? Children with autism may appear relatively normal in their development until the age of 24 to 30 months, when parents notice delays in language, play or social interaction. Below is a list of some common characteristics, although no one individual will necessarily have all of them. The range of symptoms and degree of severity will be different in each person.

Communication Skills

  • Language develops slowly or not at all
  • Use of words without attaching the usual meaning to them
  • Communicates with gestures instead of words
  • Short attention span
  • Echolalia (repeating words or phrases in place of normal language)
  • Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf
  • Difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words

Social Interaction

  • Spends time alone rather than with others
  • Acts as if has little interest in making friends
  • Less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles
  • Difficulty in mixing with other children
  • Inappropriate laughing and giggling
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Seems to prefer to be alone; aloof manner
  • May not want cuddling or act cuddly

Sensory Impairment

  • Unusual reactions to physical sensations, such as being overly sensitive to touch or less than normally responsive to pain
  • Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste may be affected to lesser or greater degrees
  • May exhibit self-stimulating behaviors, such as hand flapping or rocking
  • May avoid cuddling or may seek it
  • Apparent insensitivity to pain


  • Lack of spontaneous or imaginative play
  • Does not imitate the actions of others
  • Doesn't initiate pretend games
  • Sustained odd play
  • May spin objects inappropriately
  • Inappropriate attachment to objects
  • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity


  • May be overactive or very passive
  • Throws frequent tantrums for no apparent reason
  • May perseverate on (repeatedly focus on or use) a single item, idea, person, phrase or word
  • Apparent lack of common sense
  • May show aggressive or violent behavior or injure self
  • Insistence on sameness; resists changes in routine
  • No real fear of dangers
  • Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills (may not kick ball but can stack blocks)

There are great differences between individual people who have autism. Traits vary greatly from person to person. The degree of intensity of traits also can vary significantly from person to person. For example, someone who is mildly affected may exhibit only slight delays in language but have great challenges with social interactions. Another person may have average or above average verbal, memory or spatial skills but appear to lack imagination or have difficulty joining in a game of softball with others. More severely affected individuals may need greater assistance in handling day to day activities like crossing streets or making purchases. The supervision a person with autism needs will vary according to the intensity and combination of their traits. Supervision requirements will vary from close monitoring to independent living.

Contrary to popular belief, many children and adults with autism make eye contact, show affection, smile, and laugh and express a variety of emotions, although in varying degrees. Like other children, they respond to their environment in positive and negative ways. The autism seems to make it more difficult for them to control how their bodies and minds respond to situations and stimuli. They live normal life spans and their behaviors that are associated with autism may change over time. Some behaviors may become less problematic or even disappear over the years.

People with autism are more likely than non-autistic individuals to have other disorders that affect the functioning of the brain, such as epilepsy, mental retardation or genetic disorders like Fragile X syndrome. About two-thirds of those diagnosed with autism will test in the range of mental retardation. (Many parents and some experts question the validity of such test scores, pointing out that children and adults with autism may not communicate well enough to assure accurate test results.) Approximately 25 to 30 percent may develop seizures at some time during their lives. There is no single seizure profile for individuals with autism.



The South Carolina Autism Society is a 501(c)(3) organization, and a registered charity in the state of South Carolina.  Almost 90% of total expenses go to program services. Click here for more information.


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