Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are complex neurological disorders that affect individuals in the areas of social interaction and communication. Autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in at least 1 in 68 individuals. Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder – meaning the symptoms can occur in any combination and with varying degrees of severity.

The characteristic behaviors of ASD may or may not be apparent in infancy, but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years). ASD affects individuals in every country and region of the world and knows no racial, ethnic, nor economic boundaries.

Overview of Autism

Autism is a neurobiological disorder.  While individuals with autism have different skills and abilities, they typically experience challenges in four main areas:

  • Challenges communicating with others: verbal and nonverbal
    • Some may not speak
    • Some may speak using only one to two-word phrases
    • Some may engage in conversations but may have difficulty talking about a range of topics.
  • Difficulty understanding language and reasoning
  • Challenges socializing and developing friendships
  • Challenging behavior

Important Facts about Autism

While no one knows what causes autism, there are some general facts that are known about autism.

  • Autism is considered a spectrum disorder which means that some individuals will display significant learning and behavioral challenges, while others may only be mildly affected by the disability.
  • Autism is diagnosed based on a child’s behavior and skills.  There is no genetic marker for autism.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders is 1 in every 68 children; 1 in 42 boys; 1 in 189 girls – in PA ( 1 in 75 children)
  • Autism is found throughout the world, in families of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • The cause of autism is not known.
  • About 1/3 of all individuals with autism develop seizures in adolescence.
  • Individuals with autism live a normal life span.
  • Autism tends to run in families.  If a family has a child with autism, they have a 3-5% chance of having another child with autism.
  • Individuals with autism can improve significantly with intensive well designed educational, behavioral, speech, and sensory based programs.

What are the signs?

Know the Signs: Early Identification Can Change LivesAutism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.   People with Autism process and respond to information in unique ways.  In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present.  Persons with Autism may also exhibit some of the following traits.

  • Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
  • Difficulty in expressing needs; using gestures or pointing instead of words
  • Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
  • Laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
  • Prefers to be alone; aloof manner
  • Tantrums
  • Difficultly mixing with others
  • May not want to cuddle or be cuddled
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Unresponsive to typical teaching methods
  • Sustained odd play
  • Spins objects
  • Inappropriate attachments to objects
  • Noticeable over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
  • No real fear of danger
  • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills
  • Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing test in normal range.

Video Showing Early Signs of Autism   This video from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, in Baltimore, features three children who show early signs of autism spectrum disorder playing with toys and interacting and communicating with others. It compares the footage on each of these children to that of typical children in the same situations. “It helps parents to articulate to their pediatrician any behaviors that concern them,” says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders.