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Autism Symptoms Checklist — 21 Critical Indications to Understand

Use this autism symptoms checklist to better understand if you or your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Awareness Month happens each April, and this year we want to shed light on what it is and how to be more aware of it.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a bi-neurological developmental disability that can begin to show signs before age three.

A person with ASD generally has difficulty with social functioning, communication and language skills, and cognitive function/intellect. It affects about one in 44 children in the United States and is often diagnosed more so in boys rather than girls. 

Though, it’s important to factor in that girls are more likely to mask their disability, making it difficult to diagnose, especially early on.

Aside from masking the disability, diagnosing ASD can be hard to do, considering there is a wide range in severity. You may have heard that Autism is a spectrum–a person may land on the less-severe side, in the middle, or have a more extreme case of Autism. 

Knowing some of the signs and symptoms can be helpful to determine where along the spectrum a person may be. The earlier it’s detected, the better a person can get the right kind of assistance and treatment to live a whole, happy, functional life.

Let’s take a look at what Autism looks like in a range of ways. We’ll be providing a variety of autism symptoms checklists to help determine if you or someone you know may have some form of ASD.

An Autism Symptoms Checklist for a severe case of ASD 

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), ASD is broken into different levels. The highest and most severe form of ASD is called Level 3.

Below we’re providing an autism symptoms checklist for someone with this level of ASD, including:

  1. Inability/strong difficulty using verbal communication
  2. Appears to not observe/notice others in their environment
  3. Strong sensitivity to large crowds/gatherings, loud and abrasive noises, bright lights
  4. Sleeplessness or epilepsy
  5. An overall lower IQ and cognitive ability
  6. Lots of repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth, slamming, or moaning

These symptoms may also occur in other levels or severities of ASD. However, they might not be as apparent or obvious.

Some studies indicate that 30% of children with ASD are minimally verbal to non-verbal (one indicator that this could be severe autism), meaning that approximately one-third of all individuals diagnosed with ASD could have severe autism.

Someone with Level 3 ASD will require a substantial amount of support to help them function day-to-day. While there is no cure for any level of ASD, certain medications and treatments can help. Particularly for Level 3, applied behavioral therapy and antipsychotic medications might be helpful for a person with ASD to stabilize their behaviors.

Mildly Severe ASD — A simple Autism Symptoms Checklist

ASD Level 2 is not as severe as Level 1, but does still require lots of support. A person with ASD Level 2 may experience some of the following:

  1. Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal social communication skills
  2. Social impairments that are apparent even with supports in place; 
  3. limited initiation of social interactions
  4. reduced or  abnormal responses to social overtures from others

A checklist like this can show that someone with ASD Level 2 will generally speak in simpler sentences and communicate with only a few people that they feel particularly comfortable with.. 

Additionally, they might have trouble adapting to change, and their repetitive behavior–while not as extreme as Level 3 ASD–is still noticeable. If they’re under distress, they might have a harder time focusing.

Level 1 ASD

The least severe case of ASD is Level 1. A person on this end of the ASD spectrum requires support, but that support will be more effective than the support given to someone with Level 2 or 3.

Without that assistance, a person with Level 1 ASD might be noticeable in their difficulties with communication or social interactions. They might come off as disinterested, though they are able to speak in regular, full sentences.

Their relationships might be off or not as successful, given that their communication may come off as foreign to others.

While they don’t present with as much of the violent, physical behaviors that the others do, there is still a difficulty to adjust to change or new situations or switching between different activities. They might struggle to keep organized as well. 

How to detect ASD in children – An Autism Symptoms Checklist 

It might be difficult to notice if your child has ASD, given that they might show a variety of different signs. One way to help detect ASD is by asking yourself questions as you observe your child.

These questions include things like:

  1. Does your child not speak as well as his/her peers or friends? 
  2. Does your child struggle to make eye contact with others?
  3. Does your child not respond well when being called their name?
  4. Do they act or behave as if they live in their own, separate world?
  5. Do they have a pattern of “tuning out” others in their environment?
  6. Do they have difficulty following simple instructions or commands?
  7. Do they appear disinterested or do not bring your attention to certain objects, sights, events, etc.?
  8. Do they have many repetitive (and odd) behaviors?
  9. Does their temper tantrum last longer than the average and happen to be severe?
  10. If older than age two, do they engage in pretend play, or do they play alone/do their own play? Do they play with toys in an atypical way?
  11. Does your child express unusual attachments to things like inanimate objects, particularly solid, hard ones such as a flashlight?

Asking these kinds of questions and answering them to provide a sort of autism spectrum checklist can help with detecting certain signs and symptoms.

Being observant and noting moments where your child acts in particular ways and exhibits certain behaviors can help try to figure out if they might have a potential diagnosis or not.

Of course, observing and checking off a list can be helpful, but getting a real diagnosis is key. If you think your child does have some case of ASD, it’s important to speak with your doctor and pediatrician about getting an official diagnosis.

From there, your medical team can help develop a plan for you and your child so that s/he can progress in a healthy development style. Early interventions can make a lasting impact and help your child proceed in their development in a better, more helpful way.

ASD – What it Means if you Have it 

ASD will not affect a person’s overall life expectancy, though they are more likely to be involved in life-threatening accidents, such as drowning. Early intervention and treatment are key because some cases of ASD can be improved or overcome using the right kind of approach and medication. 

Some treatments may include therapies such as:

  1. Sensory integration therapy–to help with coping with their environments (such as large crowds and loud noises)
  2. Speech therapy–to assist with communications skills
  3. Occupational therapy–to help assist with goal-specific activities such as handwriting
  4. Physical therapy–to assist with performing day-to-day functions and activities
  5. Play therapy–to help with social skills and to let them explore and be their holistic selves

A healthy balance of these therapies to help target the particular kind of ASD a person has can really make their life feel a little bit more stable and functional.

ASD Is Not Something To Feel Shameful About

Whether you or someone you know has ASD, remember that the disability doesn’t make a person “bad” or “wrong.”

A disability doesn’t define a person–it’s just a part of who they are. Sometimes these disabilities co-occur with extremely smart, successful, and talented people. They can have a long, healthy life just like anyone else.

As a result, we want to make sure that people are aware of the signs and symptoms and have more access to things like an autism spectrum checklist. The more education there is around autism and the various spectrums a person can be on, the better we can all be about being understanding and helpful.

We can support each other and grow to empathize with those who may not normally look like you or me. We can all find ways to accept each other for who we all are. Having ASD does not exclude you from that, and someone with ASD has more to their lives than just ASD.

It, like many other mental health disorders, is not what defines us as humans.

If you found that this autism symptoms checklist was helpful, let me know in the comments.

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Samantha Mineroff

Samantha Mineroff is a writer, mental health advocate, and aspiring author. In 2018, her paper, “The Rhetoric of Major Depressive Disorder: Performativity and Intra-activity of Emotions in Major Depression” won best seminar paper award at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. At the Poetics And Linguistics Association (PALA) Conference in 2019, she went to The University of Liverpool to present her paper “An Application of Scripts, Schemas, and Negative Accommodation Theory in Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams.” She currently works as a marketing writer for clinical research. She enjoys live jazz, good conversation, and writing letters. You can reach her at sammineroff@gmail.com