What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders.  Conditions in this diagnostic category have an onset during the developmental period (pregnancy and early childhood), with signs typically seen before the child enters grade school.  ASD is characterized by difficulties in social communication and social interaction, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.  Symptoms can change with development (becoming more or less severe) making diagnosis sometimes difficult.  As a spectrum disorder, each person with ASD can have very different skills, abilities, and needs.  In addition, individuals with ASD may also have other medical or behavioral health issues that can be related or unrelated to their ASD.

Signs and Symptoms

ASD begins very early in a child’s life, with signs and symptoms typically emerging by age 3.  Emerging research suggests that it may be possible to diagnose ASD prior to age 2.  Regular screening for development throughout the first few years of life provides the greatest opportunity for a child with ASD to receive an early diagnosis and appropriate intervention.

Age-specific developmental checklists from the CDC’s “Act Early” program can be found here.

Diagnosis

Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, symptoms and severity vary tremendously from person to person.  In addition, there is no medical test (like a blood test) to provide a diagnosis.  As a result, it is important that evaluations be conducted by professionals who have been specially trained and are experienced in conducting diagnostic evaluations for possible ASD.

The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) provides diagnostic evaluations at various statewide locations. Check here to see which centers near you offer this service.

Treatment

There is no cure for ASD.  However, research shows that early diagnosis and appropriate intervention services offer a child with ASD the best opportunity to achieve his or her maximum potential.  Services are based upon your child’s individual needs, and may include behavioral therapy as well as other services to help your child talk, interact with others, and develop independent living skills.  Early Intervention (EI) is a program through the Illinois Department of Humans Services for children under the age of 36 months who are at risk of having developmental delays.  To get more information about the EI program in your community, click here.

If your child is over 36 months old, even if not old enough for kindergarten or to be enrolled in a public school, contact your local elementary school, school district office, or TAP Partner to find out how to have your child evaluated for school-provided services. Click here to find your local TAP Partner.

There are many other treatment options available for individuals with ASD.  When evaluating different options, you may find it helpful to review the suggestions on this tip sheet.

ASD Updates

TAP provides news updates related to ASD research, services, and events here. Be sure to check back regularly for new articles, tips, and resources. You can also subscribe to TAP’s newsletter here

This page contains a compilation of information provided by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).