Autism Spectrum Disorder factsheet


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also known as autism, is a developmental disorder. Autism can affect how children interact and communicate with others and their environment. 

Children with Autism can have a range of symptoms, and these can vary in how they impact day-to-day life. While there are some things that children with Autism may have in common, they are all different and will have different support needs.

Autism is not caused by:

  • parenting
  • vaccines
  • diet or other lifestyle factors.

Autism is not a condition that will go away, but it may change as your child grows.

Children with autism need good support from their families and community to help them develop and thrive.

 Signs and symptoms

Autism is something that a child is born with, but it may take a while before the signs appear or cause difficulty. Generally, children with autism may have: 

  • difficulties with their social communication
  • very specific interests
  • restricted and repetitive behaviours. 

Signs of autism are different in every child and can appear differently in boys and girls.  Children with autism may have excellent skills in one area while they struggle in another.

The signs below are a general guide. Speak to your local doctor or early childhood family nurse if you are concerned about your child’s development.

Early signs (under three years old)

Signs can include:

  • not using eye contact or gestures such as pointing to communicate
  • not responding to their name
  • delayed or unusual language development
  • not showing interest in play, games, or other children
  • not copying play or actions from other people
  • lining up or sorting toys rather than playing with others 
  • preferring to have a set routine 
  • becoming upset when a routine changes or when moving from one activity to another
  • repeating behaviours, words, or movements over and over
  • being sensitive to taste, texture, light, and sound
  • sensory seeking, like wanting to touch a particular fabric over and over or rubbing materials across their body or face repetitively. 

Communication signs (from age three)

  • having difficulty taking turns in games and conversations
  • not understanding language differences like sarcasm or taking things literally
  • not speaking or speaking with an accent, tone or volume that is unusual compared to the family
  • having trouble with non-verbal cues like facial expressions and social “rules”.

Behaviour signs (from age three)

  • having a “special interest” or area of learning that they are extremely focused on
  • needing a strict routine with advanced warning of any changes
  • repeated body movements like hand flapping, rocking, or twirling
  • having episodes of significant distress and emotional outbursts when overstimulated or overwhelmed. 

Please note that these outbursts are not due to your child being “naughty”. 

Sensory signs (from age three)

  • being upset or distressed by different textures of food and fabrics
  • finding comfort in sensory activities like chewing, deep pressure or touching different types of fabrics
  • having a lower pain threshold than average.

Related health issues

Children with autism may also experience other mental and physical health problems like:

  • intellectual disability
  • developmental delays
  • depression and anxiety
  • eating disorders
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • sleep issues
  • issues with language and motor skill development
  • gastrointestinal issues.

Children with autism can also have:

  • above average intelligence
  • excellent memory skills
  • expert knowledge in a particular area of interest.


Speak to your local doctor or child and family health nurse if you are concerned about your child’s development. You may be able to access early intervention services to support your child while you wait for a diagnosis.

To be diagnosed with autism, your child may be assessed by one or a number of health professionals. This can include a:

  • paediatrician - a child health and development specialist doctor
  • psychologist - a mental health, behaviour, and development specialist
  • psychiatrist - a mental, emotional, and behavioural specialist doctor
  • speech and language pathologist - a communication development specialist
  • occupational therapist - a specialist who helps your child to do everyday life skills and activities including play.

Autism is diagnosed by:

  • taking a medical and developmental history of your child 
  • noting any delays or regression of skills
  • watching how your child interacts and communicates
  • talking to parents, carers, teachers and other family members or professionals who interact with your child.

The number of health professionals involved and the time it takes to diagnose autism will be different for every child. 

Diagnosis of autism can help you to access therapies, education, and support. It can also help others to understand and advocate for your child’s needs. 


Autism cannot be cured or prevented; it is a condition your child is born with.

Treatment of autism focuses on:

  • checking for and treating any other physical or mental health problems
  • supporting your child’s learning and development
  • supporting your child to be an active member of the community
  • supporting your child to build their capacity to live an independent life.

Every person with autism is unique, just like everyone else. The level of support needed will be different for every child and may change throughout their life.


Support for learning and development

Some children with autism can also have some level of intellectual disability or developmental delay. 

This means they may need more support to learn skills like:

  • language
  • developing and keeping relationships
  • everyday life skills like toilet training, catching public transport or cooking.

Your child may be able to access extra support at school and home to help them learn and develop. Talk to your child’s doctor about early intervention services and support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Support for your family

Good family and community support is important for children with autism. Depending on your child’s needs, they may have more therapy or medical appointments than other children. 

Support services for families are available under the resources and more information section below. 

They can connect families with:

  • counselling and support in-person or via phone
  • NDIS funding and services
  • community events and groups.

Resources and more information

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)

Phone1800 277 328
Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) is Australia's largest provider of services for people on the spectrum. Services include information and advice, diagnostic assessments, behaviour support, parent and family support, and adult programs.
Related Links
Carers NSW Australia

Carers NSW

Email Send email
Phone(02) 9280 4744
Provides information, education and training, resources and referrals to support carers.
Related Links
Carer Gateway - An Australian Government Initiative

Carer Gateway

Phone1800 422 737
A national service that provides practical information about services and support available to carers.
Related Links

Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA)

Phone1800 629 072
The peak body for all people in NSW with disability and their families and carers, with a particular focus on those from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) / non English Speaking (NES) background with disability.
Related Links
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

Email Send email
Phone1800 800 110
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports people with a permanent and significant disability that affects their ability to take part in everyday activities.
Related Links
Parent Line NSW

Parent Line NSW

Phone1300 130 052
A free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.
Related Links

Raising Children: Children with disability

A free online parenting resource funded by the Australian Government and reviewed by experts.
Related Links
Relationships Australia NSW

Relationships Australia

Phone1300 364 277
Relationship support services including counselling for individuals, couples and families as well as parenting and relationship education.
Related Links
Siblings Australia Inc. - for siblings of children and adults with disability/illness

Siblings Australia

Email Send email
Phone(08) 8253 4936
Support for siblings of children and adults with chronic conditions including disability, chronic illness and mental health issues.
Related Links
Last updated Monday 19th February 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024