What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interactions, speech and nonverbal communication, restricted/repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities. Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 44 children have been diagnosed with ASD. ASD is more commonly diagnosed in boys versus girls, and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. ASD can sometimes be detected in children 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional is considered very reliable.

Does My Child Have Autism?


For a person to be diagnosed with ASD, they must exhibit difficulties related to social communication AND a pattern of restricted, repetitive behaviors. Some examples of behaviors associated with ASD in young children are listed below.


Possible Signs of Social/Communication Difficulties

  • Little-to-no showing to parents (e.g., not pointing to a fire truck when it goes by)
  • Not looking at an item when a parent points to it
  • Preferring to play by themselves or becoming distressed when others try to join into play
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Trouble understanding others’ feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Not responding to their names, but responding to other sounds in the environment
  • Difficulty understanding how to initiate interactions with peers
  • Rarely playing “pretend” games with toys (e.g., not feeding a doll, putting a stuffed animal to bed)
  • Trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions

Possible Signs of Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors

  • Repeating words or phrases from movies and TV shows over and over again in place of other language
  • Trouble adapting to changes in routines (e.g., driving a new route to grandmother’s house, leaving home through a different door)
  • Intensely rigid feeding habits (e.g., will only eat chicken nuggets from one restaurant, only drinks from one sippy cup)
  • Acts out the same play routine over and over again
  • Has an unusual reaction to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound