Skip 
Navigation Link
secslider

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder (a "brain" disease) characterized by the presence of persistent (ongoing) communication and social issues. It is a developmental disorder, which begins in early childhood and continues throughout life. Autism spectrum disorder affects most every aspect of life along the way. Cognitive (thinking and language) and social skills are typically developmentally delayed compared to their peers without the disorder. However, their motor (movement) skills develop in a more typical way.

Specific social interaction, communication and behavioral problems must be present before the diagnosis can be made. Though all people with autism show the same overall pattern of impairments, the severity of these issues will vary from case to case. Some people show mild impairments and others have more severe issues.

From a very early age, children with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate difficulties in interacting with other people...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder (a "brain" disease) characterized by the presence of persistent (ongoing) communication and social issues.
  • From a very early age, children with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate difficulties in interacting with other people. They also have trouble with processing social and non-verbal forms of communication, such as eye contact and facial expression.
  • People on the autism spectrum also tend to demonstrate odd or socially inappropriate behaviors.
  • The communication symptoms of autism spectrum disorder usually become apparent between eighteen and twenty-four months of age. They can become noticeable during the first twelve months if developmental symptoms are severe. The behavioral symptoms usually first appear in early childhood.
  • Once established, autism spectrum disorder symptoms continue into adulthood. The symptoms range in severity (across people) from relatively mild to severe and crippling.
  • Though intervention cannot reverse the course of autism, it can result in symptom improvement and a greater ability for independence.

For more information

What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autistic symptoms cluster into two groups: social communication/social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.
  • Communication issues include difficulty in social and emotional interactions with others, trouble using nonverbal communication skills, and difficulty developing, maintaining and understanding relationships with others.
  • People with autism spectrum disorder have a tendency towards isolation, difficulty making eye contact, and an inability to develop appropriate peer relationships.
  • Patterns of behavioral symptoms in autism spectrum disorder typically include stereotyped or repetitive body movements, insistence on a set routine that cannot be changed, highly restrictive interests that are strongly focused on, and either a lot of interest or no interest in sensory aspects of their surrounding environment.
  • Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have other mental health conditions or challenges that they face.

For more information

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed?

  • In the past, there were several pervasive development disorders that could be diagnosed including Autism, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS).
  • With the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM; currently in its 5th edition), there were extensive changes made to the diagnosis criteria and categories. Rather than multiple disorders, there is now a single condition called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • To be diagnosed with this condition, there must be:
    • A. Persistent/ongoing problems in social communication and social interaction across multiple settings as shown by the following: 1) Deficits in Social/Emotional Connections 2) Deficits in nonverbal communication behaviors used for social interaction 3) Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships.
    • B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as shown by at least two of the following: 1) Stereotyped or Repetitive Motor Movements, Use of Objects, or Speech 2) Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized pattern of verbal and nonverbal behavior; 3) Highly restricted, fixed interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; 4) Hyper- or hypo- reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.
    • C. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder must be present in the early developmental period. However, they may not become fully displayed until social demands exceed the person's limited capabilities, or they may be masked by learned strategies later in life.
    • D. These symptoms cause a great deal of stress in the person's life and problems handling school, work, relationships, and other commitments.
    • E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disabilities or global developmental delay.

For more information

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder treated?

  • There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder.
  • It is a lifelong condition that can only be treated and managed with appropriate intervention.
  • It is crucial to intervene as early as possible because the condition can interfere with normal language development. Without therapeutic assistance, children with autism spectrum disorder may not learn language properly or at all.
  • A wide variety of interventions have been developed for children with autism or PDD diagnoses. A few of these include:
  • Selected approaches address each child's specific needs as determined by educators and clinicians whose findings are formalized as an individualized treatment plan.
  • Each child's treatment plan outlines that child's strengths and needs and also lists long-term and short-term goals for the child to reach.
  • The treatment plan also outlines specific interventions that are to be used to help the child meet these goals.

For more information 

How can families cope with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis?

  • Raising a child who has been diagnosed with autism or a related pervasive developmental disorder is a daunting and exhausting task.
  • There are many appointments to keep with some families coordinating between 20 and 40 hours of therapy each week.
  • They are visited by therapists, behavior specialists, case managers and support staff.
  • They deal with their children's isolation, anxiety and tantrums, as well as their own often troubling emotional reactions.
  • In short, families need support to help them cope.
  • Respite services help families caring for children with autism to have a break from caregiving, usually for just long enough so that caregivers can catch their breath.
  • Support groups are mutual self-help groups, run either by peers (other parents of autistic children), or by professionals working in the autism or PDD field.
  • Wraparound is a temporary, physician prescribed service that brings therapy directly to needy families and is used to help children with autism work towards independence.

For more information 

What is adulthood like for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autism spectrum disorder is a life-long, chronic disorder that can significantly impact affected people's social and cognitive development.  As a result, adult functioning is frequently compromised.
  • Some adults with ASD learn to function well in society. They can earn degrees and maintain gainful employment.
  • Others never develop the communication and self-help skills necessary to live independently.
  • When children with ASD reach the age of fourteen, their caregivers and teachers create a transition planning review in collaboration with the school district. The transition planning review covers issues like education and training as well as career planning
  • Living arrangements and income are some of the major issues facing adults with autism spectrum disorder. While some can manage independently, others must be supervised around the clock to insure their safety.
  • Even if an adult with ASD can maintain a job and can groom himself independently, he may not be able to deal with everyday situations requiring good social skills like meeting new people, asking appropriate questions or maintaining interpersonal relationships.
  • The ideal jobs for adults with autism spectrum disorder are usually quite structured in nature and make a virtue of their strengths and interests. Many high-functioning adults with ASD find gainful employment in computer-related fields, some like the repetition of assembly line work, and others prefer working with animals.
  • Many adults with autism are able to function quite well in group homes that provided assisted living support, while others live with family members throughout their lives.

For more information


News Articles

  • Pain Twice as Common for Kids With Autism: Study

    Children with an autism spectrum disorder may be twice as likely to experience pain as kids without autism, a new study suggests. More...

  • Severe Morning Sickness Tied to Autism Risk in Kids

    Many pregnant women suffer from morning sickness early in pregnancy. But a new study suggests that a small minority who suffer a more severe form of the illness may be at higher odds of having a child with autism. More...

  • More U.S. Kids Being Diagnosed With Autism, ADHD

    More U.S. children today have developmental disabilities like autism and ADHD than a decade ago, though improved recognition may be a major reason, according to a government study. More...

  • U.S. Autism Rates Rising Fastest for Hispanics, Blacks

    Autism rates among U.S. children are rising fastest among blacks and Hispanics, researchers say. More...

  • Back-to-School Tips for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

    Heading back to school can be especially stressful for children with autism and their parents, but preparation and establishing a routine can make it easier. More...

  • 20 More
    • Scientists Uncover More Autism Genes

      In a finding that underscores the major role genetics plays in autism risk, researchers report they have identified 16 new genes linked to the developmental disorder. More...

    • Unlocking Speech for Kids With Autism

      For parents of a child with autism, communication is often the No. 1 hurdle. But what if there were a simple way to help them get their youngster talking? More...

    • Extreme Eating Habits Could Be an Early Clue to Autism

      Lots of kids are picky eaters. But when eating habits in young children are extreme, it could be a sign of autism, researchers say. More...

    • Autism Largely Caused by Genetics, Not Environment: Study

      The largest study of its kind, involving more than 2 million people across five countries, finds that autism spectrum disorders are 80% reliant on inherited genes. More...

    • Women's Exposure to Solvents at Work Tied to Autism in Children

      Children of mothers who are often exposed to solvent chemicals in the workplace appear to have an increased risk of autism, a new study finds. More...

    • Developmental Tests Might Spot Autism at Even Younger Ages

      The sooner a child with autism is diagnosed, the better, and now new research describes a novel way of catching it earlier than ever. More...

    • For People With Autism, Encounters With Police Can Turn Dangerous

      Being stopped and questioned by a police officer can be a stressful encounter for anyone, but it is especially hazardous for those with autism. More...

    • Treatments Targeting Social Behavior Hormone Show Promise With Autism

      Hormone-based treatment might improve social function in people with autism, a pair of new clinical trials suggests. More...

    • 'Microbiome' May Be Key to Autism Symptoms

      The belly-brain connection is gaining traction in autism research. And a new study suggests gut bacteria may play a role in the disorder or some of its symptoms. More...

    • Autism Diagnoses Reliable at 14 Months, Study Finds

      Although autism is typically diagnosed around age 3 or 4, new research suggests it can be spotted soon after a child's first birthday. More...

    • Young Adults With Autism Need Jobs, But Resources Vary By State

      There's a lot of news about the dramatic rise in the number of children with autism and the services available to them, but less attention has been paid to what happens when those kids grow up. More...

    • Could Treating Gut Bacteria Help Ease Autism Symptoms?

      Scientists suspect that your gut microbiome -- the mix of bacteria that inhabit your intestines -- affects your health in many ways, but a surprising new finding suggests that a healthy microbiome may even ease the symptoms of autism. More...

    • Kids With Autism 'In Tune' With Mom's Feelings: Study

      Children with autism may have trouble interpreting facial emotions in strangers, but research finds some are as "in-tune" with their mother's expressions as kids without autism. More...

    • Smartphone App May Boost Social Skills in Kids With Autism

      A smartphone application that works with Google Glass might help kids with autism build their social skills, a small clinical trial suggests. More...

    • Pesticides Tied to Autism Risk in Kids

      Children who are exposed to common pesticides, either while in the womb or in the first year of life, may be more likely to develop autism, a new study suggests. More...

    • Can Some Children Outgrow Autism?

      Some toddlers thought to have mild autism "outgrow" the diagnosis, but most continue to struggle with language and behavior, new research suggests. More...

    • Burden of Autism in Teens Weighs Heaviest on Minorities, Poor

      Autism exacts a heavy toll on the families of teens who struggle with the disorder, but the fight to get treatment and services is even harder among minorities who live in poverty, new research suggests. More...

    • Poor Sleep Plagues Many Kids With Autism

      Young children with autism are more than twice as likely to have sleep problems than typical kids or those with other developmental delays, a new study reports. More...

    • Autism, ADHD in One Child Tied to Raised Risk in Siblings

      Autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are so closely linked that they not only run in families, but each increases the risk of the other in future siblings, a new study finds. More...

    • Guideline Changes Have Asperger's Community on Edge

      Change in psychiatric manual will fold it into autism spectrum disorders, leaving many unsure about getting needed services More...

Share This

Resources