Characteristics of Individuals with an ASD: Articles: Indiana Resource Center for Autism: Indiana University Bloomington (2023)

While individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unique as anyone else, some common global characteristics exist within the population. These characteristics vary in intensity, degree, and amount, and manifest differently from person to person and over time. The following characteristics associated with ASD are loosely based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5™) and should be used to gain a better understanding of individuals identified with ASD, design a program, or facilitate discussion.

Social Communication Impairments

All individuals with ASD exhibit social communication impairments. In the first few years of life, salient signs of autism include lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to initiate or respond to joint attention (i.e., sharing social experiences with a communication partner). Common social difficulties include:

(Video) Addressing Behavior: Tips and Strategies

  • Demonstrating appropriate play skills, such as cooperative play with others. Some children with ASD may appear uninterested in playing with peers.
  • Some may reject or ignore the social approaches of others.
  • Responding to and initiating joint attention for social purposes. For example, many individuals with ASD are skilled at requesting items but are less likely to communicate for the purpose of sharing a social experience. Some individuals with ASD may lack interest in conversations that do not include topics of interests.
  • Using and interpreting body language. For example, individuals with ASD may have challenges understanding tone of voice or facial expression in social situations.
  • Staying on topic, turn-taking, and asking related or appropriate questions during conversations.
  • Taking their communication partner’s perspective, checking for understanding, or predicting what information may already be known about a concept or situation during conversations.

Speech/Language Impairments

Persons with ASD may have specific difficulties in the areas of receptive and expressive language. Receptive language is the comprehension of language (e.g., following directions), while expressive language is the ability to express desires and thoughts to other persons. Some individuals with ASD express their thoughts verbally, while others may be nonverbal and require a communication device.

Those who arenonverbalmay demonstrate the following:

(Video) Indiana Disability Task Force 2.23.2018

  • Delay in, or lack of, spoken speech/language, impacting approximately 20-30% of the population.
  • Lack of an effective way to communicate may lead to the need for the use of alternative augmentative communication (AAC), such as sign language, pictures, or a voice output device.

Those who areverbalmay demonstrate the following:

  • Delayed or immediate echolalia as a means of conversation with others, for self-management, or for self-stimulation. For example, a dialogue from television programs or videos may be used as a means of conversation.
  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of non-echolalic language routines that serve various functions such as initiating or sustaining a conversation.
  • Use of idiosyncratic speech (e.g., inappropriate word use).
  • Grammatical structure which may appear immature (i.e., telegraphic speech, improper tense or use of pronouns) or grammatical structure which may appear pedantic (e.g., monologue, advanced vocabulary in an area of interest).
  • Abnormal use of pitch, intonation, rhythm or stress. For example, speech may be monotone or hypernasal, and declarative sentences may end with a rising tone to signal the asking of a question.

Both verbal and nonverbal individuals may demonstrate difficulties with receptive language such as:

(Video) Dr. Dawn Neumann: What is Alexithymia?

  • Delayed vocabulary development;
  • Difficulty following directions;
  • Difficulty understanding abstract concepts; and
  • Difficulty interpreting social language, such as sarcasm and jokes.

Restricted Repetitive and Stereotyped Patterns of Behavior, Interests, and Activities

Although people with ASD may enjoy the same activities as typical same-age peers, the intensity and focus of their interests may differ. This may be due to the fact that some have a limited repertoire of alternative behaviors, or that they prefer and feel comfortable repeatedly performing certain tasks. Behavior under this category include:

  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements such as hand flapping or finger flicking, use of objects such as spinning coins or lining up toys, or use of speech such as echolalia (delayed or immediate parroting of heard words), use of “you” when referring to self or stereotyped use of words or phrases.
  • Excessive adherences to routines and sameness such as being distressed by changes in the schedule, insisting on adherence to rules, or having inflexible thinking.
  • Ritualized patterns of behavior such as repetitive questioning or pacing.
  • Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus. A toddler may have a parent’s belt that they carry everywhere, a child may have a preoccupation with vacuums, or an adult may spend hours memorizing facts about their favorite baseball team.

In the DSM-5™, sensory differences are categorized under restricted repetitive behaviors. Individuals with sensory differences will be under (hypo) or over (hyper) sensitive to a variety of sensory inputs:

(Video) Executive Functioning - Strategies at Home

  • Visual input sensitivities are staring at spinning objects, being bothered by fluorescent lights, or having trouble with keeping their place when reading.
  • Auditory input sensitivities are covering ears during loud noises, preferring loud music or none at all in the car, or not being able to respond to verbal prompts when in a noisy area.
  • Tactile input sensitivities are disliking getting hands or feet messy, avoiding/preferring certain surfaces, textures, or fabrics, or finding specific types of touch aversive (light touch on the shoulder vs. deep pressure hug).
  • Taste/Smell sensitivities are not eating certain foods, licking or tasting non-food items, or finding strong perfume or cologne aversive.
  • Proprioceptive Input sensitivities are difficulties interpreting sensations from muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons (e.g., putting too much pressure on pencil when writing or falling/crashing into things).
  • Vestibular input sensitivities are over or under sensitivities to balance and movement sensations, such as having trouble staying seated, constantly leaning head on hands and arms, or easily losing balance.

Executive Function Impairments

Executive functioning refers to advanced cognitive skills, such as attention, working memory, planning, reasoning, sequencing, and flexible thinking. In typically developing people, these skills benefit not only social interactions but also academics, learning, self-regulation, and activities of daily living.

  • Individuals with ASD may have difficulty with a wide range of executive functioning tasks, such as sequencing the order in which to dress themselves, tie their shoes, pack for a trip, or complete a homework assignment.
  • Rigid, inflexible thinking is a common characteristic of individuals with ASD, and therefore individuals may have trouble problem-solving or generating more than one solution to a problem.
  • Individuals with ASD may have executive functioning difficulties at more basic levels, such as sustaining prolonged attention to an activity, or dividing their attention between two activities at once.

Common Learning Characteristics

Although no two people with ASD are alike, many demonstrate common learning characteristics. Those involved in working with the individual with ASD will need basic information about these characteristics and how they impact learning.

(Video) Evidence-based Strategies for Using Visual Supports

  • Individuals with ASD often demonstrate exceptional rote memory skills; however, their working memory or the time it takes to process information, especially processing several pieces of information at one time, can be difficult for people with ASD.
  • Many individuals with ASD are able to better process information when presented visually. They may benefit from pictures, modeling the behaviors of others, hands-on activities, and concrete examples.
  • Unstructured time or extensive waiting can be difficult for many. Schedules or checklists can help ease the anxiety or confusion surrounding unstructured time. Educators may also consider having a box of wait time activities, such as books, toys, or sensory items.
  • Individuals with ASD often have difficulty generalizing learned skills from one setting to another. Educators may need to teach skills across different settings, people, and activities.
  • Organization of materials and activities can be problematic for individuals with ASD. Educators may need to teach individuals with ASD how to organize their materials for different classes, keep their lockers tidy, how to use an agenda, and gather materials for homework.Individuals with ASD typically perform unevenly within and across academic skill areas.
  • Some individuals with ASD are high-achieving in all areas, some have high word recognition skills, but poor comprehension, others have high calculation skills, but poor applied math problem skills, and a proportion are low in all areas.

Additional Considerations

For some individuals with ASD, additional conditions further impact their ability to successfully learn and live in society. These conditions include:

  • Current or previous seizure activity.
  • The use of medication for seizure activity, mental health disorders, behaviors, or other conditions.
  • Eating problems such as pica, overeating, and eating only particular foods.
  • Current or previous sleeping or toileting problems.
  • Self-injurious behavior such as head-hitting, self-biting, face slapping, and severe scratching.

Pratt, C., Hopf, R., & Larriba-Quest, K. (2017). Characteristics of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Reporter, 21(17). Retrieved from

(Video) ASD: The Tip of the Iceberg . . . What Else Might Be Going On?


What are some major characteristics of individuals with ASD? ›

Answer: Every individual is different. However, there are primary characteristics that are associated with ASD. The primary characteristics are 1) poorly developed social skills, 2) difficulty with expressive and receptive communication, and 3) the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviors.

What are 5 characteristics of ASD? ›

Other Characteristics
  • Delayed language skills.
  • Delayed movement skills.
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills.
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior.
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder.
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits.
  • Gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation)
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions.

What are the 3 main characteristics of ASD? ›

Characteristics of autism
  • the way you use language and talk might be different to most people.
  • you may use facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures (hand and body movements) differently to most people.
  • making and maintaining friendships might be difficult for you.
19 Oct 2020

What are the hallmark characteristics of autism? ›

The hallmark characteristics of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are deficits in social communicative skills and the use of repetitive and/or stereotyped behaviors. In addition, children with ASD experience known motor-skill delays.

What are the 2 major characteristics of ASD? ›

There are two main areas that are affected when an individual has ASD: ● social-communication skills, and ● restricted and repetitive behaviors. Individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD may have difficulty communicating with others, making friends and relating to other people.

Which are the types of autism and their characteristics? ›

There are three types of autism spectrum disorders:
  • Autistic Disorder. This is sometimes called “classic” autism. ...
  • Asperger Syndrome. People with Asperger syndrome usually have milder symptoms of autistic disorder. ...
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.

What are the cognitive characteristics of autism? ›

The cognitive strengths and weaknesses typically exhibited by people with ASD include difficulties predicting others' behavior based on their thoughts and feelings (so-called theory of mind) and problems regulating and controlling their behavior (termed executive function), combined with an aptitude for detecting parts ...

What are the Behaviours of autism? ›

They can include:
  • Repetitive body movements (e.g. rocking, flapping, spinning, running back and forth)
  • Repetitive motions with objects (e.g. spinning wheels, shaking sticks, flipping levers)
  • Staring at lights or spinning objects.
  • Ritualistic behaviors (e.g. lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a set order)

How autism characteristics can vary from individual to individual? ›

The severity of ASD can vary greatly and is based on the degree to which social communication, insistence of sameness of activities and surroundings, and repetitive patterns of behavior affect the daily functioning of the individual. Many people with ASD find social interactions difficult.

What are the main characteristics of high functioning autism? ›

Signs and Symptoms of High Functioning Autism
  • Repetitiveness. HFA is partly characterized by anobsession with a particular subject or activity. ...
  • Emotional sensitivity. ...
  • Social problems. ...
  • Language peculiarities. ...
  • Sensory difficulties. ...
  • Little or no attention to caregivers.
8 Oct 2019

What are the symbols for autism? ›

Most closely tied to the concept of the autism spectrum, a range of colors on the rainbow has often been used to visually represent the range of autism symptoms and individuals with autism's abilities and challenges. This rainbow spectrum is often paired with the puzzle piece logo, the infinity symbol, or the ribbon.

What is the difference between autism and autistic traits? ›

They are one and the same. The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the clinical definition for autism. Some people chose to be referred to as “an autistic person”, while others prefer to be referred to “a person with autism”.

What are warning signs of autism? ›

Recognizing signs of autism
  • May not keep eye contact or makes little or no eye contact.
  • Shows no or less response to a parent's smile or other facial expressions.
  • May not look at objects or events a parent is looking at or pointing to.
  • May not point to objects or events to get a parent to look at them.
1 Apr 2021

How does ASD affect communication? ›

Children with ASD may have difficulty developing language skills and understanding what others say to them. They also often have difficulty communicating nonverbally, such as through hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions.

What is the main cause of autism? ›

Autism spectrum disorder has no single known cause. Given the complexity of the disorder, and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, there are probably many causes. Both genetics and environment may play a role.

Is ADHD a type of autism? ›

Answer: Autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are related in several ways. ADHD is not on the autism spectrum, but they have some of the same symptoms. And having one of these conditions increases the chances of having the other.

How many types of ASD are there? ›

Symptoms and signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder will vary from person to person, as no two cases are the same. Did you know that there are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders (also known as ASD)? Read below to learn more about each type of Autism and how you can identify it.

What are the characteristics of autism in adults? ›

Common signs and symptoms of ASD in adults can include :
  • difficulty making conversation.
  • difficulty making or maintaining close friendships.
  • discomfort during eye contact.
  • challenges with regulating emotions.
  • extreme interest in one particular topic.
  • frequent monologues on the same subject or subjects.

What are the cognitive characteristics of autism? ›

The cognitive strengths and weaknesses typically exhibited by people with ASD include difficulties predicting others' behavior based on their thoughts and feelings (so-called theory of mind) and problems regulating and controlling their behavior (termed executive function), combined with an aptitude for detecting parts ...

What are the key domains to be addressed when evaluating a child with characteristics of ASD? ›

Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics (range, mean, SD) for the three domains of ASD symptoms (Social Interaction, Communication, and Stereotyped and Rigid Patterns of Behavior) by sex.

What are the two ways that children can be identified as having ASD? ›

Because there is no medical test for ASD, identification is based on information gathered from:
  • Family members or other caregivers (e.g., childcare providers, teachers)
  • Behavior observations across environments.
  • Systematic testing. Overall development. Adaptive behavior (e.g., dressing, grooming, feeding)

Do autistic people have empathy? ›

In the course of our studies of social and emotional skills, some of our research volunteers with autism and their families mentioned to us that people with autism do display empathy. Many of these individuals said they experience typical, or even excessive, empathy at times.

What is an autistic person like? ›

Autistic people may act in a different way to other people

find it hard to understand how other people think or feel. find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable. get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events. take longer to understand information.

What does high functioning autism look like in adults? ›

Difficulty Communicating and Awkward Communication

Signs that someone is finding it difficult to communicate include: – Difficulty reading social cues and participating in conversations. – Difficulty empathizing with other people's thoughts and feelings. – Struggling to read people's body language or facial expressions.

What are the 9 cognitive skills? ›

Cognitive Skills
  • Sustained Attention. Allows a child to stay focused on a single task for long periods of time.
  • Selective Attention. ...
  • Divided Attention. ...
  • Long-Term Memory. ...
  • Working Memory. ...
  • Logic and Reasoning. ...
  • Auditory Processing. ...
  • Visual Processing.

How autism characteristics can vary from individual to individual? ›

The severity of ASD can vary greatly and is based on the degree to which social communication, insistence of sameness of activities and surroundings, and repetitive patterns of behavior affect the daily functioning of the individual. Many people with ASD find social interactions difficult.

What are some examples of cognitive disabilities? ›

Some types of cognitive disabilities are aphasia, autism, attention deficit, dyslexia, dyscalculia, intellectual and memory loss. These types of cognitive disabilities are just the beginning, there are many more types of cognitive disabilities.

What are the 3 core deficits of autism? ›

These disorders are characterized by three core deficits: impaired communication, impaired reciprocal social interaction and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests.

Does autism come from the mother or father? ›

The team found that mothers passed only half of their structural variants on to their autistic children—a frequency that would be expected by chance alone—suggesting that variants inherited from mothers were not associated with autism. But surprisingly, fathers did pass on substantially more than 50% of their variants.

What is autism caused by? ›

Some genetic mutations seem to be inherited, while others occur spontaneously. Environmental factors. Researchers are currently exploring whether factors such as viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants play a role in triggering autism spectrum disorder.


1. ASD: The Tip of the Iceberg . . . What Else Might Be Going On?
2. Relational Mechanisms of Social Disability in Autism
(NJ Autism Center of Excellence)
3. For Parents of Newly Diagnosed Children: What Can I Do?
4. Preparing for the School Year: Post COVID
5. Recent Campbell Collaboration Disability Research Synthesis Results
6. Social Connectedness as a Biological Imperative: Implications of Polyvagal Theory in Understanding
(NJ Autism Center of Excellence)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated: 04/05/2023

Views: 5559

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.