Mature Developmental Milestones compared with High Functioning Autism Milestones

A developmental milestone is a significant neurological step in the progressing physical, emotional, intellectual, mental, spiritual maturity of a person to adulthood.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term used to describe a spectrum of neuro-developmental disorders. It is genetic and results from neurological factors that delay or prevent the developmental maturity of many or sometimes nearly all functional brain systems.

Failure to reach certain significant mature milestones can have an aberrant effect on a person’s ability to function successfully in relationships and other areas of life.




Joint attention

Interest only in one's own needs; OCD; narcissism

Difficulty sharing experiences & interests

Theory of mind/Theory of own mind – awareness of self and others

Inability to see one’s own or another's point of view

Inability to be “in someone else's shoes”; fails to acknowledge and denies truth of partner’s view

Ability to read and interpret body language / facial expression, pragmatic language skills

Lack of pragmatic language skills,

Limited understanding of body language / facial expressions

Inability to register others’ emotions

Ability to repair & maintain relationships, have life-long friendships

Inability to repair and nurture relationships

Few, if any, real friends

Emotional reciprocity

Lack of empathy for people

Inability to relate to or sense others’ emotions

Desire or need to socialise and make "small talk", interest in others

Inability to see the need for small talk; socialises for own ego/manipulation; narcissism

Difficulties in making relationships, uses role playing, copying & masking outside home to cover deficiencies

mature developmental milestones reached by NTs

Sense of humour / understanding of irony & human frailty

where levels of development may arrest in adults with ASD

Limited humour/ inability to laugh at oneself and one’s own mistakes

effects on adults with ASD as a result of not reaching mature milestones

Limited ability to admit to mistakes, sees others as the cause of their difficulties

Abstract language; meta language understanding

Limited to literal understanding of language; lack of cognitive complexity

Limited ability to understand irony /metaphor / jokes / idioms; inability to understand complexity of thought and language

Desire to share own and others’ interests

Obsession with own interests; OCD

Difficulty sharing anything

Ability to generalise learning to new situations

Rigid compartmentalisation of concepts

Inflexibility in learning new ways and growing

Abstract thinking; higher order thinking skills

"Concrete" thinking, lacking schema changes after childhood; lacking insight/inferences/extrapolation skills

Little appreciation of "hidden" meaning in life; unable or very slow/unwilling to learn new ways of being

Imagination and ability to dream of possibilities

Solitary imagination

Tendency to remain "stuck in a rut” in life

Ability to share problems and concerns as a means to solve them

Inability to share problems or foresee consequences and possibilities; opportunistic meeting own needs only

Tendency to get into problem situations; “Mr Magoo” Syndrome; oblivious to turbulence of problems

Social conscience, sense of “fair play” and natural justice

Undeveloped social conscience & overly strict adherence to own rules; narrowly focussed, unable to interpret nuance in life

POSSIBLE psychopathic, sociopathic or criminal behaviour, black and white attitude to life; extreme zeal for perceived righteous pursuits or power; “god-like”; authoritarian, opportunistic

mature developmental milestones reached by NTs

Ability to react & act spontaneously and appropriately

where levels of development may arrest in adults with ASD

Inappropriate responses or no response

effects on adults with ASD as a result of not reaching mature milestones

Awkwardness, lack of caring in family and social situations; poor parenting

Innate knowledge about social behaviour

Lack of real understanding of social behaviour

Desire for isolation or over socialisation

Comfort, pleasure & pain in sensory experiences

Sensory overload or unawareness

Excess or avoidance of appropriate touch & physical contact

Intuition about life; innate knowing

Lack of intuition

Lack of common-sense

Balanced development of emotional and intellectual skills

Development of intellectual skills over emotional skills

Interactions limited to intellectual responses unless prompted

Ability to show love and respect in tone of voice, eyes, treatment of others

Limitation to "gifts of service"

Cold and unloving behaviour, lack of compassion, lack of empathy

Attachment to people, places and things

Lack of attachment to people

Attitude that others are dispensable

Reflection and insight into self

Lack of sense of self in relation to others

Inability to reflect on own life

Ability to make decisions using emotions and intellect

Uncertainty of own feelings about things

Poor decision making / naiveté

mature developmental milestones reached by NTs

Executive functioning

where levels of development may arrest in adults with ASD

Lack of executive functioning and organisational skills;

effects on adults with ASD as a result of not reaching mature milestones

Inability to navigate complex processes and use forethought to perceive consequences; passive aggression

Ability to prioritise tasks and multi-task

Limited to one task at a time, usually a special interest, strict routine or obsession

Neglect of urgent responsibilities or panic

Context awareness, fast intuition; unconscious cognition

Context blindness; mindblindness; lack intuition

Prompt Dependent; inability to react/behave/adapt spontaneously to social contexts/changes or making necessary exceptions to rules

Able to generalise implicitly and explicitly on global and local tasks

Unable to generalise learning

Inability to adapt appropriate strategies when particular responses/ behaviours are essential

Ability to gain wisdom from experiences

Lack of generalisation of learning and awareness of important experiences

Strongly inflexible or absent personal philosophy / ideology

Physical co-ordination

Poor fine/ gross motor skills; or outstanding sporting skills Tourette’s; hand flapping

Unusual gait, unco-ordinated movement, tics; inappropriate facial expressions; immature attempts at “play”

Mature ability to control thoughts, emotions, words, actions according to circumstances.

Lack of impulse control, uncontrolled meltdowns, inappropriate anger; rage cycle

ADHD, ADD, OCD, tantrums; manipulates and controls others by fear, anger, anxiety, verbal/physical violence; possible depressive symptoms

© compiled by J.A. Morgan BEd Grad Dip and FAAAS, inc 2017


Based on the work of educational theorists

  1. Piaget’s Stages of Development

  2. Bloom’s cognitive/affective learning and taxonomy of higher order thinking skills

  3. Kohlberg’s development of empathy stages

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