Dr. Smith describes how children with autism often display a wide array of behaviors related to an interfering, sometimes compulsive desire for sameness. In contrast to typically developing youth, small changes in routine or the child's immediate environment can result in extreme distress for a child with autism.
Though Nathan, a young child with autism, appears interested in a toy frog, he struggles to imitate the examiner's actions despite several attempts. This difficulty with imitation as well as Nathan's apparent language delay and tendency to fixate on one object, in this case the frog, are symptoms of autism. Nathan speaks no words throughout the video and spends most of the assessment perseverating on the frog. He struggles to transition to other activities or toys. Further, when playing with the frog, Nathan wiggles his fingers and waves his hands, stereotyped behaviors that often arise during moments of excitement, interest or distress in children with autism.
Social Communication and Social Interaction
Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history
Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
Restricted and Repetitive Patterns of Behavior
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history
Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).
Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).