What are the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)?

The autism spectrum disorders affect three major areas of development:

Communication concerns include delayed speech, lack of gestures such as pointing, or the continuous repeating of certain words or sounds. Some individuals with communication impairment are nonverbal, others have difficulty interpreting nonverbal (body) language or in participating comfortably in a two-way conversation.

Social concerns may include poor eye contact, lack of interest in or normal play with other children, or not being able to appropriately interact with people. Some individuals with social impairment isolate themselves from others, while other individuals are socially awkward or have difficulty in making and maintaining ongoing relationships.

Behaviors that are repetitive and unusual might include strict adherence to routines, obsessive interests, and/or unusual body movements (such as hand flapping with excitement).  Individuals may exhibit rigidity in thought processes, which can include difficulty learning abstract concepts, generalizing information, and tolerating changes in routines and/or environments.

When there are impairments in each of these three areas, a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be given.  ASD is common; with recent estimates suggesting that 1/88 children have some form of ASD.  Autism is a syndrome, which means that it is a condition defined by the existence of a collection of characteristics.  ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed before the age of three.  Early intervention can improve outcomes for individuals who have ASD.

Early identification of possible ASD

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for possible ASD at the 18 and 24 (or 30) month well child visits.  If autism is suspected at older ages, there are screening tools that help physicians determine whether the child should be referred for evaluation.  Any child who fails an autism screen should be referred both for intervention services and for definitive clinical diagnosis by professionals with autism expertise.

Early Intervention and Special Educational Supports

If there is a concern about possible autism for a child under age three, the child should be referred to the Infant Toddler System (  For children aged three to five, the local school district can provide Early Childhood Special Education.   After children enter kindergarten, they may qualify for Special Education Services.

For more information on ASD:.

Website for the Center for Child Health and Development including information about diagnostic clinics, other services, and general information about ASD.

Website for the Technical Assistance System Network (formerly KISN) with technical support for schools serving children with autism, including information on Autism Diagnostic Teams.  Information for families under Lending Library -à Links and Resources.