What is Autism?

Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges for affected children and adults. Autism’s effects vary person to person, so these challenges can be mild or significant.

Current research indicates that autism spectrum disorders are present at birth and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms can improve over time. Some children with autism disorders show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not develop until 24 months or later. In still others, the children may develop normally until 18 months or 24 months, and then they stop gaining new skills or they lose skills they once had.

A child with an autism spectrum disorder may exhibit some or all of the following:

  • Doesn’t respond to their name by 12 months old
  • Doesn’t point at objects to show interest by 14 months old (such as pointing at an airplane flying overhead)
  • Doesn’t play “pretend” games by 18 months old (such as pretend to feed a doll)
  • Avoids eye contact and wants to be alone
  • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Has delayed speech and/or language skills
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (often called “echolalia”)
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions
  • Gest upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Flaps hands, rocks body or spin in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel
  • Has trouble sleeping

Parents can learn about developmental milestones here.