Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are both terms used for a group of complex brain development disorders that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.

Previously, autism was one of the three recognized disorders of an ASD, the other two being Asperger syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which was diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome were not met. These conditions all had similarities in their symptoms, but they differed in terms of the onset of symptoms as well as how severe they were.

The new DSM-V published in May of 2013 combined the different subtypes of autism into 1 diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In addition, a new diagnosis, Social Communication Disorder (SCD), was created for those individuals who have social and communication difficulties but do not present any repetitive behaviors or restrictive interests that are typical of the autism diagnosis. This new diagnosis caused a lot of controversy between professionals and families since individuals diagnosed with SCD would have fallen under the PDD-NOS diagnoses in the DSM-IV.


  • Research has proven that an Autism Spectrum diagnosis at age 2 can be reliable, valid, and stable.
  • Children are being diagnosed younger – about 18% of them by age 3- although some are not diagnosed until after they reach age 4.
  • Research has shown that parents of children with ASDs notice differences before their child’s first birthday. Concerns about hearing and vision as well as unusual behaviors such as failing to make eye contact or playing with toys in repetitive ways have often been reported in the first year, along with evident deficits in communication, motor, and social skills from 6 months of age.
  • Scientific studies have demonstrated that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism. While the outcomes of early intervention vary, all children benefit.


ASD is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities that are present in the early developmental period. ASDs are spectrum disorders. That means that people with ASDs share some similar symptoms, but there are differences in the onset of symptoms and the exact nature of the symptoms that can range from very mild to severe. The diagnostic criteria for ASD requires that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old.  However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.

Some of the common signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Preference to be alone
  • Has little to no eye contact
  • Fails to respond to his/her name and follow instructions
  • Cannot point to objects of interest
  • Appears unaware of other’s feelings
  • Resists change, showing disturbance with the slightest change in routines, thus requiring sameness
  • Demonstrates repetitive play behaviors (such as spinning the wheels of a car toy instead of rolling the car up and down a car ramp)
  • May repeat words/phrases said to them
  • Exhibit repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking, and spinning
  • Is not aware of unsafe/dangerous situations
  • Has some food selectivity (prefers certain textures, colors, flavors)


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 68 American children are diagnosed with Autism–this represents a 78% increase in prevalence over the previous 5 years. Studies also show that autism is 5 times more common among boys than girls.  An estimated 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. According to the CDC, ASDs have been reported across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. By way of comparison, more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome- combined.  There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.


  • Studies among identical twins have shown that if one twin has an ASD, the other has a 36-95% chance of being affected. In non-identical twins, if one twin has an ASD, then the other has a 0-31% chance of being affected.
  • Parents who have a child on the spectrum have a 2-18% chance of having a second child on the spectrum.
  • Other developmental, neurological, genetic or chromosomal conditions can co-occur in 10% of children with an ASD (i.e., fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis).
  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for ASDs.
  • A small percentage of children who are born with low birth weight or prematurely are at greater risk for having ASDs.


*NOTE: This is not a complete listing of symptoms and signs of ASD.  If you are concerned about your child’s behaviors, please contact your pediatrician. Do feel free to visit the following links for more information: