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For Parents

Autism is defined by differences in social communication development, thinking, and behaviour. The signs of autism can be very different in each child. It’s why the term we use is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—there’s a spectrum of different signs and symptoms. 

About one in 100 children have ASD, and it’s about about four times more common in males. Symptoms of ASD are usually seen in the first three years of life, but it’s a life-long disorder of brain development. Early intervention can make a great difference. Parents usually are the first to suspect a problem.  As early as possible, parents should ask their family doctor or another health care professional for an opinion.

Signs and symptoms

A diagnosis of ASD involves an individual displaying several diagnostic features, behavioural patterns and signs. These characteristics may include: 

  1. Social development
    •    Less awareness of other people and their feelings
    •    Unusual use of eye contact
    •    Preference for doing things alone
    •    Difficulty playing/working in groups
    •    Difficulty making friends
  2. Communication
    •    Delayed or disordered use of speech and gesture
    •    Poor understanding of language, gesture, and facial expressions
    •    Unusual speech “melody”
    •    Repetitive speech, often echoing what other people say
    •    Difficulty with taking turns in conversation
  3. Behaviour
    •    Need to follow strict routines/difficulty with change in routines
    •    Repetitive behaviours (e.g. hand flicking, asking the same questions)
    •    Unusual reactions to the sound, sight, touch, smell or feel of things
  4. Learning deficits
    •    Difficulty relating skills learned in one environment to another (generalization)
    •    Uneven learning profile
    •    Difficulty with abstract concepts
  5. Associated features
    •    Problems with toilet training, sleeping, and / or eating
    •    Sudden mood changes; anxiety 
    •    Specific fears
    •    Lack of awareness of danger
    •    Self-injurious behaviour

Helping someone

If you suspect your child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, speak with your family doctor or contact Mental Health and Addictions Services at the IWK. 


For Youth

As a youth with autism, it is important to know some basic facts.  With autism, three areas of functioning are affected; social development; communication and thinking/behavior. 

If your social development is affected, you might be less awareness of other people and their feelings. Or you might have unusual eye contact or prefer to be alone rather than with people in groups.

If your communication is affected you might have delayed speech, or have difficulty understanding facial expressions or language. Another way you communication is affected is you have difficulty taking turns in conversation.

If your thinking/behavior is affected, you might have difficulty understanding abstract concepts, or need to follow very strict routines. You could have a lot of difficulty with a change in routine and sometime you have a strong reaction to the sounds around you or how things feel how things feel or sound around you.  

The terms “autistic spectrum disorder” (ASD) and “pervasive developmental disorder” (PDD) both describe these areas of functioning. Related disorders such as Asperger syndrome are also included in ASD/PDD.    

Did you know that:

• At least 1 in 150 children have an ASD.

• Autism looks different in different people

• ASD is about 4 times more common in males.

• Symptoms of ASD are usually seen in the first three years of life.

• ASD is a life-long disorder of brain development. 

• Cause(s) of ASD are not yet understood; genetic factors are important in some cases.