Autism contains a wide spectrum of behaviors and conditions that typically present as difficulty with social skills and communication, as well as repetitive behaviors. There are many characteristics of autism that are relatively well-known — such as making repetitive movements like hand-flapping or rocking (stimming), having delayed speech, and fixation on certain objects — and there are many characteristics of autism that aren’t as well-known.
No person on the spectrum is the same; two toddlers may engage in completely different behaviors and be at two different points in their development and both be diagnosed with autism. Likewise, two adults with autism may be at completely different points in their lives in terms of independence, motor skill development, and social skills.
It’s called a spectrum for a reason.
Here, we want to explore some of the lesser-known characteristics of autism. Some of these behaviors are closely linked to each other, and some may be surprising. Every person on the spectrum won’t display all these traits, but being aware of them can be helpful in preventing misunderstanding and, in some cases, avoiding danger.
Inappropriate laughing or giggling
Plenty of children go through phases where they laugh inappropriately — it’s part of developing social skills and appropriate responses. However, if that phase doesn’t end, it can be a lesser-known characteristic of autism.
Inappropriate laughing can be caused by a lack of communication skills, sensory sensitivity, or difficulties with high-level thinking and judgment. Someone with ASD may respond with laughter to a serious situation because they are focused on one aspect of what is happening or something in their head, or simply because that’s their default response.
Dr. Rastall, a Seattle Children’s psychologist, urges parents to understand what is driving the behavior to better understand how to resolve it. It could be that the person wants to communicate, avoid a task, get attention, get something they want, or help process a situation they find uncomfortable.
Lack of fear toward danger
This particular symptom can be frightening for loved ones, and also be a bit confusing. How can someone with ASD experience heightened anxiety and terror from something as harmless as a butterfly, yet have no fear of running right into traffic?
It’s likely due to where their focus lies and their awareness of their surroundings. The sound and sudden movement of a butterfly flapping its wings nearby may pull an autistic person’s focus immediately if they have a heightened sensitivity to sound and sudden movement. Conversely, the whizzing of cars going by may be drowned out by an autistic individual’s focus on getting to a specific point.
Moving toward danger can also be triggered by a reaction to stimuli. For example, if an autistic child was startled and overwhelmed by a butterfly, he may start running away and simply not stop, because his only focus is getting away.
Click “NEXT” to learn more lesser-known characteristics.