Features of ASD

ASD is characterised by impairments in three areas of development and functioning. These areas, referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’, are:
- social interaction;
- verbal and nonverbal communication; and
- restricted and repetitive interests, behaviours, and routines.

These impairments are usually present before the age of three and features can vary markedly. The child’s age and level of intellectual functioning also impacts on the behavioural presentation. However, almost all children with an ASD will have some of the following features:
- difficulty with the use of eye contact;
- difficulty with the use and understanding of gestures;
- difficulty sharing interests with others;
- difficulties with, or no, verbal language;
- echolalia (i.e., repetition of words spoken to them);
- delayed development of receptive and expressive language;
- sensory sensitivities;
- motor impairments;
- difficulty with, or absence of symbolic or imaginative play;
- unusual preoccupations;
- stereotyped behaviours;
- narrow and intense interests;
- a preference for routines;
- impaired social skills; and
- difficulty understanding emotions in self and others.

Children with Asperger’s Disorder differ from children with Autistic Disorder in that they may not present with significant delays in the development of intelligence and language before the age of three. However, they do have significant impairments that are often more evident when interacting with other children than when interacting with adults.

Children with PDD-NOS also have impaired social skills similar to those found in children with Autistic Disorder and Asperger’s Disorder, but are only significantly impaired in either communication or behaviours. They may or may not have cognitive impairment.

Intellectual disability varies for children with ASD. The majority of children with Autistic Disorder have low general intelligence (IQ<70). Children with ASD but no intellectual disability are often referred to as having high-functioning autism. Around 10 percent of children with an ASD demonstrate high intelligence, with this sometimes occurring in a particular area such as maths, art, music, or computer studies.

Research suggests that ASD affects at least 1 in 160 children, with Autistic Disorder being the most common. ASD is more commonly diagnosed in boys than in girls — at a rate of about four to one. 

The Raising Children Network has an extensive on-line listing of early warning signs of ASD. Please click here for further information (opens a new browser window).

State/Territory autism associations
Allied health providers
Useful links