What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), hereafter referred to as Autism (which includes Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified [PDD-NOS]), is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. The Autism experience is different for everyone. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is often referred to as a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.

While there is currently no known single cause of Autism, early diagnosis helps a person receive resources that can support the choices and opportunities needed to live fully.


Autism is characterized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is used by clinicians to diagnose Autism by: Persistent differences in communication, interpersonal relationships, and social interaction across different environments. What this can look like:

Being nonverbal, nonspeaking, or having atypical speech patterns, having trouble understanding nonverbal communication, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty maintaining typical back-and-forth conversational style. 

Restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities and interests. What this can look like:

Repeating sounds or phrases (echolalia), repetitive movements, preference for sameness and difficulty with transition or routine, rigid or highly restricted and intense interests, extreme sensitivity to, or significantly lower sensitivity to, sensory stimuli.


Autism impacts an individual throughout their lifespan. However, research shows that early diagnosis can lead to improved quality of life. The behaviors of Autism may be apparent in infancy, but they usually become clearer during early childhood. As part of a regular health visit, your child’s doctor should perform developmental screenings focused on Autism. This screening is recommended at ages 18 and 24 months for all children.

Your doctor will encourage you to ask specific questions about your child’s developmental progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) developed a detailed list of behaviors, listed in four categories: communication, social behavior, stereotyped behavior, and other behavior. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a list of Signs and Symptoms, which can be found here.

It is important to remember that each individual with autism is unique; while they may have certain core characteristics that diagnose them as being on the “spectrum,” their personalities and interests – and their autism – can vary as much as their “neuro-typical” peers.

Autism typically appears during the first three years of life because children may not be achieving certain milestones and parents become concerned. Sometimes Autism Spectrum Disorders are not diagnosed until later in life when social differences become more pronounced in school settings. A diagnosis can be made by a Developmental Pediatrician or Neurologist.

Know the signs: Early identification can make a big difference.

Autism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. Visit the CDC website for more information on treatments.

Know the signs and act early!  Learn more about your child’s milestones …

Here are some signs to look for in the children in your life:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  •  Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects, such as wheels.
  • Spinning objects.
  • Not pointing.


Currently, the Autism Society estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism (this figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, in addition to related therapeutic services and caregiver costs).

From the time a child is diagnosed, supports are needed to help each individual with autism achieve their potential. The spectrum of autism also means that the spectrum of life is available to individuals with an ASD diagnosis. From school-age interventions, to transition from adolescence into adulthood, people with autism have doors open to them such as college, employment, and independent living. For those who have different skill sets, they also contribute greatly to society with their ASD abilities, which can be unique from their “typical” peer.