What causes autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects children’s behaviour, social skills and communication. There's no known cause, but a family history of autism and non-genetic factors may contribute. 

The research is clear that there is no link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.  

What are the signs of autism?

Autism can range in how it affects children. You may notice the first signs in your child at an early age.

In a baby, you may notice characteristics related to eye contact, smiling, babbling, responding to their name and interacting with others (e.g. during games like peek-a-boo, clapping, waving).  

Young children may show difficulties with social activities, communication or play. Common things you might notice can include: 

  • difficulty in social communication
  • difficulty interpreting and using nonverbal communication 
  • difficulty developing and maintaining relationships 
  • may have stereotyped or repetitive motor movements 
  • may insist on sameness and be inflexible about changes to routines 
  • may have intense, narrowly focused interests 
  • may be hyper or hyporeactive to sensory input 
  • may have a talent or enhanced ability. 

The Autism New Zealand website has more information on each of these symptoms.

Autism traits and characteristics

Autism New Zealand

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Empowers people living with autism to make informed choices and take action.

When to talk to a Plunket nurse or your doctor

If you're concerned about your child's difficulties with language, gestures, eye contact, play, or relationships, talk to your Plunket nurse or doctor.  

There is no one sign of autism, but your doctor may refer your child to a special health professional who will assess your child and provide you support. 

It can be difficult and challenging for families when it’s confirmed your child has autism.  

There's support available and it’s important to look after yourself too, so ask for help and any information that you may need. 


ASDetect is a free app that empowers parents and caregivers to assess the social attention and communication behaviour of kids younger than two and a half years (between 11-30 months). 



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A free app that empowers parents and caregivers to assess their child's social attention and communication behaviours.

Support services

There are many support services that can help support a child with autism and their whānau. The level of support needed is individual and will vary for every child. Having support early will help your child's long-term health and development.   

Autism spectrum disorder support

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.