Learn More About ASD

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer includes Asperger’s syndrome; the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome are included within the broader category of ASD.

Information on ASD can also be found on the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Who Is At Risk?

Studies measuring autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence—the number of children affected by ASD over a given time period—have reported varying results, depending on when and where the studies were conducted and how the studies defined ASD.

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  of health and school records of 8-year-olds in 11 communities throughout the country found that in 2010, the rate of ASD was higher than in past U.S. studies, around 1 in 68 children. Boys face about four to five times higher risk than girls.

Experts disagree about whether this shows a true increase in ASD prevalence. Since the earlier studies were completed, guidelines for diagnosis have changed. Also, many more parents and doctors now know about ASD, so parents are more likely to take their children to be diagnosed, and more doctors are able to properly diagnose ASD. These and other changes may help explain some differences in prevalence numbers. Even so, the CDC report confirms other recent studies showing that more children are being diagnosed with ASD than ever before. For more information, please visit the autism section of the CDC website .

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Living With ASD

After your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may feel unprepared or unable to provide your child with the necessary care and education. Know that there are many treatment options, social services and programs, and other resources that can help.

Some tips that can help you and your child are:

  • Keep a record of conversations, meetings with health care providers and teachers, and other sources of information. This will help you remember the different treatment options and decide which would help your child most.
  • Keep a record of the doctors’ reports and your child’s evaluation. This information may help your child qualify for special programs.
  • Contact your local health department or autism advocacy groups to learn about the special programs available in your state and local community.
  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician, school system, or an autism support group to find an autism expert in your area who can help you develop an intervention plan and find other local resources.
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