What is Autism?

According to the CDC, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The CDC estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children in the U.S, has an ASD. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.

ASDs are “spectrum disorders.” That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.

Types of ASDs

  1. Autistic Disorder – Most commonly what people associate with the term “Autism”, people with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges. Many people with autistic disorder often display behaviors or interests that some would consider “unusual”.
  2. Asperger Syndrome- Individuals with Asperger’usually have milder symptoms of Autistic Disorder. They most commonly have challenges with social interaction and unique behaviors and interests. People with Asperger’s do not typically have problems with language or intellectual disabilities.
  3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – PDD-NOS is more commonly referred to as Atypical Autism as these individuals have some symptoms of Asperger Syndrome or Autistic Disorder. These individual’s usually have fewre and milder symptoms.
  4. Rett Syndrome – Rett Syndrome is a developmental disorder that causes problems in brain function that are responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotional, motor and autonomic function. Individuals with Rett Syndrome can develop significant challenges with learning, speech, sensory sensations, mood, movement, breathing, cardiac function, and even chewing, swallowing, and digestion
  5. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder – Childhood disintegrative disorder is a condition that typically occurs in children 3-4 years of age. Children with CDD usually develop normally to age 2 before experiencing significant deterioration in intellectual, social, and language functioning over a period of several months.

Understanding Autism Resources

Links

The Autism Program of Illinois

The Centers for Disease Control – Autism Resources

National Institute of Mental Health – ASD Resources

NIH Medline Plus – Autism Resources

US Dep’t. of Health & Human Services

Autism Society of America – What is Autism

TEACCH Autism Program – About Autism

 

Publications

NIMH – Autism Spectrum Disorders

CDC – ASD Fact Sheet

CDC – Study to Explore Early Development (newletter)

 

 

Signs & Symptoms Resources

Links

The Autism Program of Illinois

CDC – Signs and Symptoms of Autism

NIMH – Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Mayo Clinic – Symptoms

Publications

Fact Sheets on milestones by age – CDC

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development – Red Flags for Autism

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms & Signs of Autism are most commonly classified into 4 areas. The information below is taken from the CDC and National Institute of Mental Health.

  1. Social Symptoms

    Social issues are one of the most common symptoms in all of the types of ASD. People with an ASD do not have just social “difficulties” like shyness. The social issues they have cause serious problems in everyday life.

    Examples of social issues related to ASDs:

    • Does not respond to name by 12 months of age
    • Avoids eye-contact
    • Prefers to play alone
    • Does not share interests with others
    • Only interacts to achieve a desired goal
    • Has flat or inappropriate facial expressions
    • Does not understand personal space boundaries
    • Avoids or resists physical contact
    • Is not comforted by others during distress
    • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about own feelings

     

  2. Communication Difficulties

    Each person with an ASD has different communication skills. Some people can speak well. Others can’t speak at all or only very little. About 40% of children with an ASD do not talk at all. About 25%–30% of children with an ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.

    Examples of communication issues related to ASDs:

    • Delayed speech and language skills
    • Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
    • Reverses pronouns (e.g., says “me” instead of “I”)
    • Gives unrelated answers to questions
    • Does not point or respond to pointing
    • Uses few or no gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
    • Talks in a flat, robot-like, or sing-song voice
    • Does not pretend in play (e.g., does not pretend to “feed” a doll)
    • Does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing

     

  3. Repetetive & "Unusual" Behaviors & Interests

    Many people with an ASD have unusual interest or behaviors.

    Examples of unusual interests and behaviors related to ASDs:

    • Lines up toys or other objects
    • Plays with toys the same way every time
    • Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
    • Is very organized
    • Gets upset by minor changes
    • Has obsessive interests
    • Has to follow certain routines
    • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles

     

  4. Repetetive Behaviors & Interests

    Many people with an ASD have highly repetetive or "unusual" interests or behaviors.

    Examples of such interests and behaviors related to ASDs:

    • Lines up toys or other objects
    • Plays with toys the same way every time
    • Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels)
    • Is very organized
    • Gets upset by minor changes
    • Has obsessive interests
    • Has to follow certain routines
    • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles

     

  5. Other Symptoms & Signs

    Some people with an ASD have other symptoms. These might include:

    • Hyperactivity (very active)
    • Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
    • Short attention span
    • Aggression
    • Causing self injury
    • Temper tantrums
    • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
    • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
    • Lack of fear or more fear than expected
    • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

     

Children develop at their own pace, so it can be difficult to tell exactly when a child will learn a particular skill. But, there are age-specific developmental milestones used to measure a child’s social and emotional progress in the first few years of life. To learn more about developmental milestones, visit “Learn the Signs. Act Early,” a campaign designed by CDC and a coalition of partners to teach parents, health care professionals, and child care providers about early childhood development, including possible ”red flags” for autism spectrum disorders.