Autism is not a specific disorder that can be diagnosed with a blood test or an MRI. There are a number of symptoms that characterize the condition known as autism spectrum disorder. To be diagnosed with borderline autism, a child must display many of them but not in the frequency or severity that merits a full diagnosis. Borderline autism symptoms include problems with: social skills, body use, the ability to adapt or make transitions, language and other sensory and developmental issues. The diagnosis is achieved with a battery of developmental screenings, direct observation of the child, and the answers given by the parents and other care givers about the child.

Social Skills

Children with borderline symptoms of autism spectrum disorder usually have problems with social skills. They may be very shy or fearful. They may be more fussy than other children or express more frequent or forceful anger. It may be difficult for them to make eye contact and they may avoid being in social situations. Sometimes people may consider them to be rude because of how difficult it is for them to handle themselves in a social setting. They may have a very hard time finding empathy for another person or even adequately identifying their own feelings.

Physical Behaviors

Children with borderline symptoms of autism spectrum disorder often have unusual physical behaviors. They may make repetitive hand movements. They may hurt themselves by butting their head on the floor or the wall, for example. You may see them rocking or spinning around a lot. Some of these children always walk on tiptoe. Dr. Melvin Kaplan, OD, who wrote "Seeing With New Eyes," is convinced that many of these behaviors are the child's attempt to adjust for distortions in their vision and that they can be helped by developmental optometrists who are skilled in binocular vision.

Ability to Adapt or Make Transitions

Children who find it exceedingly difficult to move from one activity to the next or who cannot stand to get new clothes could be on the borderline of the autism spectrum. The inability to tolerate change of any kind is a common symptom of autism. These children often cannot stand being interrupted when they are concentrating.


Many children on the autism spectrum have a delay in the development of their language skills. They may be poor communicators or even totally non-verbal. They may make strange noises or, on the other hand, be excessively verbal and unaware that they are dominating the conversation. It may also be difficult for them to listen and respond appropriately.

Other Sensory and Developmental Issues

Other sensory and developmental issues may indicate that a child is on the borderline of the autistic spectrum such as having huge reactions to lights, sounds, certain colors, smells or textures. He may also display poorer than average physical coordination. Any of these symptoms alone does not indicate that a child has borderline autism. However, when many of them cluster and began between the ages of 2 and 10, the child should be evaluated by a team of medical, vision, educational and psychological professionals.