What Are The Characteristics and What Are People With Autism Like?

Children with autism often appear relatively normal in their development until the age of 24-30 months, when parents may notice delays in language, play or social interaction.

The following areas are among those which may be affected by autism:


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 spans.

Social Interaction

Spends time alone rather than with others; shows little interest in making friends; less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles.

Sensory Impairment:

Unusual reactions to physical sensations such as being overly sensitive to touch or under-responsive to pain; sight, hearing, touch, pain, smell, taste may be affected to a lesser or greater degree.


Lack of spontaneous or imaginative play; does not imitate others actions; doesn’t initiate pretend games.


May be overactive or very passive; throw frequent tantrums for no apparent reason; may perseverate on a single item, idea or person; displays rigidity, wanting things a certain way; may show aggressive or violent behavior or injure self.

There are great differences among people with autism. Some individuals mildly affected may exhibit only slight delays in language and greater challenges with social interactions. They may have average or above average verbal, memory or spatial skills but find it difficult to be imaginative or join in a game of softball with their friends. Others more severely affected may need greater assistance in handling day to day activities like crossing the street or making a purchase.

Contrary to popular understanding, many children and adults with autism make eye contact, show affection, smile and laugh, and show a variety of other emotions, but in varying degrees. Like other children, they respond to their environment in positive and negative ways. Autism may affect their range of responses and make it more difficult to control how their body and mind react. They live normal life spans and the behaviors associated with autism may change or disappear over time.

While no one can predict the future, we do know that some adults with autism live and work independently in the community, while others depend on the support of family and professionals. Adults with autism can benefit from vocational training to provide them with the skills needed for obtaining jobs, in addition to social and recreational programs. Adults with autism may live in a variety of residential settings, ranging from living independently home or apartments to group homes, supervised apartment settings, living with other family members to more structured residential care.

Individuals with autism may have other disorders which affect the functioning of the brain, such as epilepsy, mental retardation, or genetic disorders, such as Fragile X Syndrome. About two-thirds of those diagnosed with autism will test in the range of mental retardation. Approximately 25-30% may develop a seizure pattern at some period during life.

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