Dr. Smith explains that children on the spectrum have narrowly focused interests and spend a great deal of time reviewing materials related to these interests. Social interaction may also be limited as typical children often become bored with this specific topic and the child's one sided rehearsal of related facts. These preoccupations can sometimes be confused with savantism.
Dr. Smith explains that not all children with autism (but many) engage in an array of unsual behaviors related to sensory interests, including oral, auditory, visual and tactile fixations. Making repetitive finger movements in front of the eyes is a classic symptom of autism that also likely has a sensory component.
One of the possible warning signs of autism are unusual, repetitive behaviors. Stephen K., who is 4 years 8 months, is shown mouthing his fingers in a very unusual way. This repetitive licking of his fingers may be related to sensory interest in the taste or feel of certain textures.
Lining up objects is a repetitive behavior that can be a warning sign for autism. In this video, Riley displays her interest in lining up a variety of objects in multiple locations, including her home and the doctor's office. It is evident that Riley's interest in lining up objects interferes with her other activities. She ignores her mother's attempts to introduce toys and becomes irritated when objects are removed from her constructed rows.
Excessive rocking combined with odd finger and hand mannerisms can be a warning sign for autism. Sal, the oldest of the three children on the spectrum, exhibits these behaviors while watching a cartoon with his brothers. Although all of the boys seem interested in the cartoon, none of them share their enjoyment with one another, another warning sign.
Children with autism may become fixated on specific desires, so much so that it will restrict their ability to do anything else. Sal's desire to "see rocky" is so intense that it distracts him from doing anything else, such as completing a puzzle with his father.
Some chidlren with autism may become preoccupied with lining things up or putting things in a certain place or exact orientation. Nathan becomes upset when he cannot align his cards in a specific way. His communications and social deficits are also clear when he repeatedly fails to ask his mother for help, despite being clearly distressed. Rather, his mother must offer to help and repeatedly guess what he wants because Nathan is not effectively communicating with her through language or nonverbal cues (e.g. pointing, gesturing, showing).
Dr. Deborah Fein discusses and explains restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests (RRBIs), one of the three domains that comprises an autism diagnosis. RRBIs encompass the risk alerts which are classified by the unusual behaviors performed repetitively or for sensory stimulation, including: Restricted and Sensory Interests and Motor Stereotypies.
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).