7 Characteristics and Traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer


Children with autism may echo or repeat words or phrases they hear you say or that they heard on television. Echolalia can be immediate or delayed, meaning they repeat it later. They may sometimes use certain phrases from a favorite song or television show to communicate a need or want, for example, your child may repeat a phrase from the Thomas show to indicate he wants to watch it.


According to the Autism Society, about 30 percent of all children with autism have hypotonia, or low muscle tone, sometimes referred to as "floppiness." Children with hypotonia may have great flexibility, such as being able to do splits, but limited strength. Physical therapy helps train the affected muscles and some children develop muscle tone as they age.


Many children with ASD are highly sensitive to touch, sound, visual stimulus, smells and taste. Your child may find tags in clothes unbearable or become agitated in loud environments. High pitched noises are sometimes painful. Children with autism are often picky eaters because they don't like the taste, smell or texture of certain foods. Occupational therapy can help with sensory difficulties.

Self-Stimulatory Behavior

Also called stimming or stereotypy, behaviors include flapping hands, rocking back or for the or repetitive movement of objects, such as spinning a wheel over and over. As many as two-thirds of children with autism exhibit some type of stimming behaviors [John Hopkins Medicine]. Many stimming behaviors are harmless and no intervention is necessary but others may need to be addressed. Your child's Occupational Therapist should be able to help.


Pica is the act of eating non-food items. Children may eat dirt, paint, Styrofoam, clay, chalk or numerous other substances. Young children, usually between the ages of 2 and 3, often eat non-food items, but children with autism may continue for much longer, actually craving the items. Pica is considered an eating disorder and sometimes leads to health problems. Your child's doctor and Occupational Therapist can provide ideas to manage pica.


Hyperlexia is actually a syndrome which is considered to be on the autism spectrum. Children with hyperlexia are fascinated with letters and numbers and have an advanced reading ability. They have excellent auditory and visual memories but have trouble with spoken language and rarely initiate conversations.

Narrow Interests

Children with autism often have narrow interests and spend their time focused on that one interest. These interests are sometimes about mainstream topics, such as a fascination with computers, or can be more out of the ordinary, such as an obsession about washing machines. Children often learn as much as they can about the topic of their interest. Interests can change, for example, your child may be fascinated with Thomas the Tank Engine this year and Lego's next year, but usually there is one intense interest at a time.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.