Caregiver works with child who has special needs

South Carolina Medicaid: Autism signs and symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.” Some people with ASD need a lot of help. Some people with ASD need just a little help.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Children with ASD may:

  • Have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things
  • Have problems with communication, emotional, and social skills
  • Not want change in their daily activities
  • Repeat certain behaviors

Causes and risk factors

Scientists have identified many causes for ASD, including:

  • Biologic factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Genetic factors
  • How old a child’s parents are when the child is born
  • The prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide, if taken during pregnancy

Scientists do not know all causes of ASD. Scientists are certain that vaccines do not cause ASD2.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of ASD begin during early childhood, typically last throughout a person’s life, and can include:

  • Appearing to be unaware when people talk to them, but responding to other sounds
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Being very interested in people, but not knowing how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • Having trouble:
    • Adapting when a routine changes
    • Expressing their needs using typical words or motions
    • Relating to others
    • Understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Having unusual reactions to the way things feel, look, smell, sound, and/or taste
  • Losing skills they once had (e.g., no longer saying words they were using)
  • Not:
    • Having an interest in other people
    • Looking at objects when another person points at them
    • Playing “pretend” games (for example, not pretending to “feed” a doll)
    • Pointing at objects to show interest (for example, not pointing at an airplane flying over)
  • Preferring not to be held or cuddled, or cuddling only when they want to
  • Repeating:
    • Actions over and over again
    • Words or phrases said to them
    • Words or phrases in place of normal language
  • Wanting to be alone


Diagnosing ASD can be difficult. A doctor looks at a child’s behavior and development. There is no medical test to diagnose ASD.


ASD currently has no cure. Early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development, according to the CDC. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills, such as:

  • Interacting with others
  • Talking
  • Walking

Talk to your child’s doctor as soon as you think your child has ASD or other developmental problem.


1. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last accessed on August 17, 2022.

2. Autism and Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last accessed on August 17, 2022.

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