Autism Criteria: 33 Behaviors To Check

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen

April 23, 2022

Based on the DSM-5 autism criteria, professionals diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) based on difficulties in “social communication” and “restricted, repetitive and/or sensory behaviors or interests.”

Symptoms of autism

Autism is categorized as a developmental disorder of the nervous system that impairs an individual's ability to communicate and interact. Children with autism can face challenges with developing cognitive, emotional, and social skills.

Here are a few symptoms of autism:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • High intensity or great interest in specific topics
  • Repetitive behavior such as doing the same activity or repeating the same sentences
  • Showing high sensitivity to simulations such as sounds, smells, sights, and touches
  • Not showing interest in conversations or not listening while someone speaks
  • Not wishing to be held or cuddled
  • Facing trouble adapting to changes in daily routine

Levels of autism

Autism can be categorized into three different levels based on the severity of symptoms and the level of support required by the patient:

  • Level 1 Autism — Also known as mild autism, this is the least severe level of autism that requires minimal support for people to perform their day-to-day activities.
  • Level 2 Autism — A mid-level severe category of autism that requires mid-level support. Those who fall under this category face more challenges with social skills and interactions that are noticeable to other people around them.
  • Level 3 Autism — This level indicates the acute form of autism spectrum disorder. Those under this category find a significant level of challenges with social communication and social skills and require very substantial support. They exhibit behavioral characteristics such as rocking, echolalia, spinning things, or other behaviors and often struggle with unexpected events.

Autism criteria for diagnosis

The following conditions have to be met for an autism diagnosis:

Difficulties in social communication

The criteria for exhibiting persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction are as follows:

  1. If a child has persistent deficits in social-emotional reciprocity.
  2. Showing abnormality in social approaches
  3. Not being able to participate in a normal back-and-forth conversation
  4. Not showing interest or emotions towards anything
  5. Not being able to initiate or respond to social interactions
  6. If a child has persistent deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors that are used for social-emotional reciprocity. 
  7. Showing difficulty in initiating or maintaining verbal and nonverbal communication
  8. Showing abnormality in eye contact and body language
  9. Showing lack of facial expressions
  10. Inappropriate use of gestures
  11. If a child has persistent deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.
  12. Difficulties in adjusting behavior patterns according to various social contexts
  13. Having difficulties maintaining relationships and having friends
  14. Living in their world of imagination
  15. Showing absence of interest in peers

Restricted, repetitive, and sensory behavior

The criteria for exhibiting restricted, repetitive, and sensory behavior are as follows:

  1. Exhibiting stereotypical or repetitive motor movements and other characteristic behavioral patterns such as the use of objects and speech.
  2. Using idiosyncratic phrases
  3. Echolalia
  4. Flipping objects
  5. Very intrigued by toys
  6. Showing inflexibility to routine changes, adhering to the same routines, insisting on being the same way, exhibiting verbal and nonverbal behavior.
  7. Sensations of extreme distress at small changes in daily routine
  8. Inability to adapt to transitions
  9. Showcasing rigid thinking abilities and patterns
  10. Requiring to eat food at every routine change
  11. Displaying fixed interests or highly intensified focus on certain things or objects.
  12. Manifesting a strong attachment to objects
  13. Being preoccupied with unusual objects such as the wheels of a car
  14. Expressing high or low reactivity to sensory inputs and sensory aspects of the environment.
  15. Exhibiting immense pain to temperature changes
  16. Excessive smelling
  17. Increased durability to loud sounds
  18. Fascinated visually by lights or colored objects

The symptoms must be present during the early developmental period. They can lead to clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

Treatment for autism

Even if a child has not been officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, he/she can still benefit from a variety of treatment and activities. There are many treatment options available for autism to suit a child’s unique needs. These treatments are aimed at reducing symptoms and improving learning and development for children.

Treatments related to behavior and communication

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA therapy focuses on the training required to promote behaviors that are useful for daily life and work situations and decrease behaviors that are considered harmful or that can affect learning.

ABA Techniques

There are many effective ABA techniques. Here are some of the most common:

  • Discrete Trial Training This training involves breaking down lessons into smaller and simpler tasks, and then rewarding the child with positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors.
  • Early Start Denver Model This model is for kids ranging from ages 12 to 48 months and uses play and joint activities to help improve their language, cognitive, and social skills.
  • Pivotal Response Training — Pivotal Response Training focuses on social connectivity while encouraging children to initiate conversations with others, increase their motivation to learn, and monitor their behavior.
  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention — This training is carried out for children younger than five years old and involves one-on-one sessions with a trained specialist.

Sensory integration therapy

This therapy is specific for children who get easily upset and distressed by sensory simulations such as bright lights, certain sounds, and touching. This therapy can help them overcome their distress and lead a better lifestyle.

Treatments related to physical activity

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can help children with autism master their basic motor skills used in daily life, such as standing, running, or sitting, by improving strength, balance, and posture.

Physical therapy for young children

Physical therapy for young children focuses on increasing the child's strength and coordination. They can be tutored on activities like walking safely, using the stairs, etc. This therapy can help them navigate their physical boundaries, guide them in their routines, and interact with their peers in play.

Physical therapy for older children

This therapy can be recommended for children in their school years, where combined treatment can be given by therapists and parents to increase awareness and develop their physical strength. The therapy focuses on skills such as developing skills for ball chairs, using hula-hoops to mark their personal space, getting involved in whole-class movement breaks, or teaching strategies on how to play social games.

Such therapies can benefit children by providing them with the efficiency required to manage environments such as crowded hallways and lunchrooms. As a result, they can develop coordination, spatial awareness, and even take part in physical education.

Physical therapy for adults

Physical therapy for adults involves a personalized exercise routine program that can help them hold their jobs, help them function at home, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can help children with autism learn and develop independent life skills such as feeding, dressing themselves, bathing, and developing social interactions with other people in their environment.

Bottom line

These criteria for diagnosing autism are followed by all medical professionals such as pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists. Diagnostic assessments can help to determine the signs and symptoms of autism shown by an individual and their level of severity.

For personalized, life-changing autism care, contact Songbird. At Songbird, we're building a world where every child has access to holistic care uniquely tailored to them.