Habits like lining up objects, or arranging them in patterns are potential signs of autism.
Repetitive behaviours like these are common among people with autism, along with other nervous disorders, like OCD and Tourette’s.
Now researchers have developed a test of these signs that can help to diagnose autism.
The test includes questions like:
- Do you repetitively fiddle with items?
- Do you like to arrange items in rows or patterns?
- Do you get upset about minor changes to objects (e.g. flecks of dirt on your clothes, minor scratches on objects)?’
It then asks people to rate how strongly they agree with various statements, including:
- I often notice small sounds when others do not.
- I would rather go to a library than a party.
- I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information.
Other parts of the test ask people about the types of games they played as children.
Researchers gave the test to 229 people with and without an autism diagnosis.
Even those without autism showed a tendency towards repetitive behaviour.
However, those with the diagnosis scored significantly higher.
The test focuses on repetitive behaviours as they are a common sign of autism, recent research finds.
The severity and frequency of these repetitive behaviours could help to diagnose autism in adults.
The test cannot diagnose autism, though, as repetitive behaviours are just one part of the syndrome.
People with autism also typically have problems with communication and social interaction.
Those with autism often insist that their daily routines remain the same.
They use habitual, repetitive movements to try and reduce stress and anxiety.
Repetitive behaviours can include jumping, spinning, arm-flapping, head-banging and so on.
As with many psychological conditions, the seeds of the disorder are found in most people.
It is when it starts to interfere with everyday life that it requires diagnosis and treatment.
The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Barrett et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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