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Common Characteristics of ASD

The information on this page was created in partnership with the Communications Sciences and Disorders department under the direction of Dr. Trisha Self, CCC-SLP and Master's students Shayla DeGarmo and Marlee Rath.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-5) all of the following criteria must be met for a person to diagnosed with ASD:

  • Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interets, or activities
  • Symptoms must be present in the early development period
  • Symptoms limit and impair everyday functioning
  • Symptoms are not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay

If you have a student who has been diagnosed with ASD, they will have met these criteria.  You may find that you "suspect" that one of your students has ASD because they tend to exhibit certain characteristics in your class. It is never appropriate to attempt to "diagnose" your students in this way or to pressure your students reveal their diagnosis to their classroom peers. If you have a concern about a student and believe they should be evaluated for accommodations, please encourage them to reach out to the Office of Disability Services.

University Students and ASD

The rate of ASD diagnosis has risen dramatically in recent years, and currently there is an estimated prevalence of 1 in 59 people with the disorder.  Each year, approximately 49,000 students with autism complete high school, and about 16,000 of them go on to higher education opportunities. The rate of college students who meet the ASD criteria is estimated to lie between .7%-1.9%. This population is at risk for attrition as only about 39% of students with ASD graduate from their higher education programs. Nevertheless, many students with ASD can be academically successful at the same or even higher level as their peers without autism. Considereing the needs of students with autism as professors plan and develop their courses will help to serve these students better and improve graduation rates.

Misunderstanding Students with ASD

Several common ASD-related behaviors can be mischaracterized as inattentive or rude in a classroom setting. As an instructor working with a diverse student population, be aware of the following possible avenues for misunderstanding:

  • Behaviors sometimes interpreted as "lack of interest"
    • Poor eye contact
    • Repetitive physical movement
    • Making sounds and/or talking while other people are speaking
    • Limited conversation
    • Limited conversational initiation
    • Not asking for assistance
  • Behaviors sometimes interpreted as "inattentive"
    • Asking excessive questions about something that has already been presented
    • Asking questions on an unrelated topic
    • Commenting on topics that are unrelated to the conversation
    • Difficulty comprehending abstract concepts
  • Behaviors sometimes interpreted as "disorganized"
    • Poor time management
    • Inability to "multitask"
    • Challenges with modifications to routine or a schedule
    • Lack of flexibility in daily life
    • Difficulty processing auditory information
  • Behaviors sometimes interpreted as "impolite"
    • Talking off topic
    • Lingering excessively on topics of personal interest
    • Reacting with inappropriate emotional responses when stressed
    • Responding inappropriately to social cues, facial expressions, or body language in others
    • Speaking bluntly and "overly" honestly
    • Frequently interrupting
    • Difficulty relating/responding to others' ideas or experiences

Common Strengths Associated with ASD

While some behaviors associated with ASD can be disruptive in the classroom, there are other ASD-associated behaviors and abilities that are often seen as strengths. These can include:

  • Understanding and using visual information meaningfully
  • The ability to take in large amounts of information quickly
  • Remembering information for long periods of time
  • Extended focus on a single concept
  • The ability to recognize and isolate patterns in large data sets
  • The ability to problem-solve
  • The ability to develop original and creative ideas