Traits and characteristics

An autistic person may experience challenges with social communication and interaction, have intense interests and a strong need for routines and predictability, and be hyper- or hypo-reactive to sensory input.

No two autistic people are alike, but can often experience difficulty with social skills and executive functions, and have sensory needs that are different from those in the neurotypical population.

Within these areas of challenge, autism will be expressed in different ways for each person, e.g. difficulty making small talk or having a balanced conversation, sensitivity to certain sounds or textures, and the need to stick to a daily routine. The traits experienced may change during the lifetime of a person as coping mechanisms or compensation strategies are learned and appropriate support is provided. However, this does not mean that the person has grown out of their autism. It would be more accurate to say that they have ‘grown into’ their autism, a process that is never finished and requires a phenomenal amount of energy to maintain.

Many of the challenges autistic people face are not self-perceived as ‘symptoms’ of their autism but as difficulties created by their environment: a society that largely refuses to make accommodations for people with cognitive/invisible disabilities.

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Traits and Characteristics Category
  • Adults
  • Children

Difficulty in social communication

Although autistic adults tend to be comfortable with functional communication (exchanging information), informal conversation (especially small talk, which may be considered inauthentic), can be difficult.

Difficulty interpreting and using nonverbal communication

Aspects of body language or gestures that are natural and intuitive for neurotypicals may require conscious effort to learn and reproduce appropriately for autistic people.

Difficulty developing and maintaining relationships

Autistic people may be unsure of how to adjust their behaviour to suit various social contexts and may need explicit guidance on, for example, who is ok to hug and who should just get a hello from a small distance.

May have stereotyped repetitive motor movements

Autistic people may show a range of repetitive movements such as handwringing/flapping, rocking, spinning, pacing, or bouncing (colloquially also called ‘stimming’), in response to certain stimuli or in an attempt to process thoughts and emotions.

May insist on sameness and be inflexible about changes to routines

Autistic people tend to follow ritualised patterns of behaviours; for example, they may have specific greeting rituals, always dress the same way, or eat only certain foods.

May have intense, narrowly focused interests

Autistic people may have intense interests that appear narrow or even obsessive to family and friends.

May be hyper- or hypo-reactive to sensory input

Autistic people process sensory input differently on a neurological level. Most commonly, the sense of hearing is affected, effectively turning up the volume of the world.

May have a particular talent or enhanced ability

Enhanced or ‘savant’ abilities are estimated to be present in 10% of autistic people while being extremely rare (less than 1%) in the non-autistic population*.

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