What Is Autism? And what are its common traits?


Autism is a devastating neurological and biological disorder that typically affects children between the ages in 18 months to five years of age. Autism currently affects 1 in every 91 children today. It is estimated there are over 1 million people in the United States alone with autism. Autism affects each individual differently and at different levels of severity. Some people with autism are severely affected, cannot speak, require constant one-on-one care, and are never able to live independently. While others who have less severe symptoms, can communicate, and eventually acquire the necessary skills to live on their own.

Typically, autism affects individuals in five key areas:

  • Communication (verbal and non-verbal)
  • Social skills
  • Behaviors
  • Learning
  • Medical issues


  • One in every 91 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism. (NOTE: This number does NOT include: PDD, Aspergers and other spectrum disorders. These statistics are endorsed by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other federal organizations.)
  • Autism is a life-long disability for many affected individuals
  • Autism affects each individual uniquely
  • People affected with autism live a normal life span
  • It is estimated that there are approximately one million people in the US affected with autism
  • Some people affected with autism will require life-long care at the cost of $5 to $7 million dollars.
  • Autism is the most common developmental disability in California (and many other states). Autism is now more common that Down Syndrome, Mental Retardation, and Cystic Fibrosis combined.
  • Autism often strikes boys more often than girls – roughly four times more common in boys.
  • Some children who receive an early diagnosis, intense behavioral intervention, medical treatment, and speech therapy will lead typical lives. Not all people diagnosed with autism receive such an early diagnosis or enjoy this outcome.

Most Common Misconception About Autism:

The common misconception with autism is that all autistics are like the actor Dustin Hoffman in his portrayal in the movie Rain Man. His character possessed an amazing mathematical skill of adding enormous amounts of objects or counting cards in a deck. This example is a Hollywood portrayal and is not the case with all individuals affected by autism. His performance is to be applauded, but it was only that: a performance, and should not be considered as an example of autism today.

Common Autistic Traits:

People diagnosed with autism process, respond, and interact with information in different ways. In some cases, individuals with autism may not be able to speak, may have self stimulatory behaviors (such as hand flapping, vocal utterances, repetitive behaviors), may be aggressive or be self-injurious. Each individual with autism is affected differently. But like with all people - not all individuals with autism are alike. In fact, very few autistics have the exact same issues. Very few individuals with autism are affected with all the issues specified below.

Some autistic traits could include:

  • Scatter/splinter skills of abilities –
    • such as poor gross motor or fine motor skills and the ability to read at a very young age
  • Oversensitive or under sensitive to pain
  • Desire for the same daily schedule, toys, type of clothes or an insistent on “sameness”
  • Repeating words, phrases in place of typical language or conversation (This is known as echolalia)
  • Much difficulty expressing needs – they may use pointing, gestures versus words, or tantrums
  • Finding situations funny or laughing at times when it is inappropriate (i.e., laughing at a baby crying.)
  • Activity is noticeably under active or over active
  • Excessive or frequent tantrums
  • Can be aggressive or self injurious
  • Prefers to be alone – may have social skills deficits
  • Autistics can act deaf or be non responsive to verbal cues
  • Odd play such as; spinning objects, or using toys for something besides there their intended purpose or using an odd attraction to an item that is inappropriate for age
  • Non existent or poor eye contact
  • Non responsive to typical teaching methods
  • May respond negatively to crowds or not able to mix well with others
  • Difficulty with holding a conversation
  • May not like hugs, or to be cuddled.
  • Sensitivity to loud noises, tags in clothes, coarse clothing, lights, and smells
  • Frequently uses peripheral vision to track items (e.g., rolling car along countertop at eye-level)
  • Highly self-limited diet (narrow down foods they’ll eat to a very limited few items when previously a broader range was accepted (e.g., bread, chicken nuggets, cheese, milk, and crackers – period.)
  • A high amount of severe food allergies
  • History of chronic ear infections as an infant
  • Severe gastro-intestinal issues; chronic loose and/or foul-smelling stools.
  • Lack of imaginative play or imitation.

Many of the above traits can occur in neurotypical individuals as well. However, the more symptoms from this list that apply (at least eight or more,) the possibility of autism might be considered and discussed with your child’s physician or a qualified pediatric neurologist.

Medical and behavioral treatments are available to individuals affected with autism. With early intervention (via both traditional therapies and medical intervention unique to the individual,) the future can be very bright for many affected with autism. However, we know very little about what causes autism and how to prevent it. Urgent medical research is required to help solve the mystery of autism and in finding the cure.

TACA believes in early diagnosis, intensive therapies and medical intervention for children affected by autism. With early intervention, medical treatment unique to each person's needs, and necessary support services for families many children can improve greatly and some can recover from their autistic symptoms. We believe the future is not defined for many children affected by autism. Hope and recovery is possible.

DISCLAIMER - TACA provides general information regarding medical research, treatment options, therapies and nutrition to the autism community. The information comes from a variety of sources, and TACA does not independently verify any of it. Nothing on this website / parent information binder should be construed as medical advice. Always consult your child's doctor regarding his or her individual needs.

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