About Autism

Children and adults with autism exhibit atypical, repetitive behaviors and deficits in social and communication skills. Autism is usually diagnosed during the first three years of life and is four to five times more prevalent in boys than in girls. It knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. Autism, Asperger’s Disorder and PDD-NOS are commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASDs.  This label conveys the continuum of ability levels, but is not itself an official diagnosis.  Autism spectrum disorders affect approximately 1 in 150 individuals.1 1. Fombonne, E. (2005). The changing epidemiology of Autism. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 18, 281-294. Many individuals with autism do not spontaneously reach out to others to share information or feelings. They often do not know how to engage in simple social interactions, such as sharing an experience with another person. For example, a three-year-old child with autism may not point to an animal so that his sister will notice it, too. Social skill deficits can make the development of intimate relationships quite difficult. However, with effective treatment, many people with autism eventually learn to initiate interactions and respond to others more successfully. One of the hallmarks of autism is a delay in or a lack of development of spoken language. Many individuals with autism do develop speech. Their vocabulary may consist of a few words or many words; sentences may be simple (one or two words) or complex. Common speech abnormalities include echolalia (immediate or delayed repeating of information), unconventional word use, and unusual tone, pitch, and inflection.   Even when more complex speech is acquired, individuals with autism typically have poor conversational skills. They may also have difficulty understanding common, nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. Unfortunately, not all children with autism develop functional speech. However, many of these individuals with autism do learn to communicate through picture boards, computers, sign language, and other augmentative devices. Individuals with autism have a restricted range of interests. For example, a six-year-old child with autism may only play with his or her toy train to the exclusion of all other toys. Additionally, people with autism may engage in peculiar, sustained play activities such as spinning the wheels on a toy car rather than pretending to drive it, or finding a shoestring and dangling it in front of his or her eyes for long periods of time. Individuals with autism can also be very resistant to changes in routine. Even a minor change could be a great upset to a child or adult with autism. No single individual with autism will display all of its possible characteristics. Instead, each person will demonstrate a unique combination of symptoms.