Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Parents may often explore diagnostic evaluations or neuropsychological testing if they suspect that their children are showing signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism). A diagnostic evaluation can provide insights into how children learn best, which helps to determine services or support that might be beneficial to promote progress. During an evaluation, the clinician (e.g., pediatric neuropsychologist, developmental pediatrician) will assess various domains of development, such as communication, social skills, and more.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by challenges with social communication and interaction skills and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. In order for a child to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, their symptoms or characteristics must:

  • Be present in the early developmental period
  • Cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning
  • Not be explained by intellectual development disorder or global developmental delay

What are Social Communication and Interaction Skills?

Social communication and interaction skills include a child’s ability to navigate social situations, as well as use and interpret nonverbal communication.

Why are Social Skills Important?

Social skills play a large role in a child’s social-emotional development. A child who lacks social skills may have difficulty making friends or participating in a social environment. Problems with social skills indicative of autism can include:

  • Difficulty understanding or showing understanding of other people’s feelings or their own
  • Difficulty holding conversations
  • Not responding to sounds, voices, or name
  • Giving unrelated answers to questions
  • Difficulty with timing in conversations or letting others speak

Why are Nonverbal Communication Skills Important?

Nonverbal communication plays a large role in social interaction. There may be negative social implications if a child has challenges with effective nonverbal communication. Problems with nonverbal communication indicative of autism include:

  • Little or no gestures, such as pointing, reaching, or waving
  • Little or no back and forth sharing of facial expressions or sounds
  • Difficulties with joint attention (i.e., following another person’s gaze or pointed finger), such as when playing with a toy or activity with a parent or therapist
  • Not showing items or sharing interests
  • No social smiling

What are Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests, or Activities?

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities include (but are not limited to), movement with objects, repeated body movements, rigid or ritualistic behavior, hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory input, and stereotyped movements.

Do you have questions about your child’s development or diagnostic evaluations? Contact the team at the Goldman Center of Chicago to speak with a specialist who can answer all of your questions! (773) 998-8500



American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.