Autism Questions


Autism is a common and heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorder. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Autism affects an individual’s social, emotional, and behavioral functioning, as well as his/her family. Symptoms of ASD vary but generally fall into two areas:

  • Social impairment, such as deficits in social communication
  • Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors as well as sensory differences

While the causes and etiology of autism are continuing to be unraveled, we do know that autism is a wide spectrum with many variations of individual functioning and that functioning may improve with appropriate intervention.


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is an umbrella term often used to describe a continuum of diagnoses that include Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Individuals with ASD exhibit or have a history of deficits in communication, impairments in social interactions, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors that can range from very mild to severe dysfunction.

​Abilities, intelligence, and behavior will vary on the spectrum for each individual with ASD. For example, for some individuals with autism do not speak while others have advanced language skills.


Signs of autism may become more obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years) although they may be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), typically before age 3. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:

  • Does not babble or coo by 12 months
  • Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
  • Does not say single words by 16 months
  • Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
  • Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age

It does NOT mean that your child has autism if they have any of these symptoms; however, these behaviors should be discussed with your pediatrician and possibly further evaluated by a multidisciplinary team. Please visit the following website for more information:

​Many individuals with autism often have language and communication delays or differences, repetitive or unusual behaviors, restricted areas of interest, and delays in social interactions and functioning.  However, for high functioning autism, sometimes these delays and differences are not evident until school age, adolescence, and perhaps even adulthood.  As social demands increase, the social and communication differences become more apparent in individuals with autism.


Symptoms of ASD vary but generally fall into two areas:

  1. Social impairment, such as deficits in social communication
  2. Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors

ASD is considered a lifelong disorder although symptoms or behaviors do not remain static over a lifetime.  Recent research indicates that communication skills improve, such as the social use of language; however, interpreting social information and participating in reciprocal social interaction continues to be more resistant to change.

Social Impairment

  • Poor social communication
    • Differences in speech rate and rhythm and eye contact
    • Decreased ability to have a reciprocal conversation and turn
    • Overly verbose in conversations
    • Difficulties understanding and using humor and other forms of non-literal language including sarcasm, analogies, and metaphors
  • Impaired social cognition
    • Difficulties in expressing emotions
    • Difficulties understanding the feelings of others
    • Difficulties with empathizing
    • Lack of understanding of social causality
    • Lack of understanding of social cues
    • Difficulty understanding the value and meaning of non-verbal elements of social interaction
    • Inability to interpret social cues
    • Indiscriminate behaviors

Difficulties with social communication and reciprocal social interaction can have lingering influences on a child well into adulthood.  These difficulties are thought to be significant contributions to patterns of unemployment, decreased number of friendships and romantic relationships, and low rates of independent living.


Repetitive and restricted behaviors or interests (RRBs) can be present in ASD. Repetitive actions are sometimes called “stereotypy” or “stereotyped behaviors.”

Some examples of RRB’s:

  • Motor stereotypies, such as hand flapping, walking in specific patterns
  • Repetitive use of objects, such as lining up toys
  • Stereotyped or repetitive speech, such as echolalia or idiosyncratic phrases
  • Intense restricted interests or preoccupations
  • Perseveration on specific topics of interest
    • Difficulty changing conversational topics
    • Inflexibility and difficulties with changes in routines or insistence on sameness
  • Sensory differences, such as hyper- or hypoactivity

It does NOT mean that you or your child has autism if these behaviors are present. We offer screenings and evaluations at Spectra Therapies for most ages.


  • 1/68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups
  • 1/42 in boys
  • 1/189 in girls
  • ASD is almost 5 times more common among boys
  • About 1/6 children in the US had a developmental disability
  • On average, children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age 4, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age 2
  • An estimated $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD
  • Total societal costs of caring for children with ASD were over $9 billion in 2011.


Many people and professionals define Asperger’s Disorder as a milder form of autism and use the term “high-functioning autism. After being in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for almost a decade (DSM-IV, 1994 to DSM-5, 2013) the categorical syndrome of Asperger’s Disorder has been removed and subsumed under the title Autism Spectrum Disorder. Although removed, may people and professionals continue to use this term.


Now considered under the umbrella term, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome in the past was distinguished from Autistic Disorder due to the absence of language delays and less symptom severity, comparatively.

Typically, individuals with less symptom severity, as previously defined by Asperger’s, have reciprocal social communication difficulties, despite most obtaining an average
to high average intelligence. Restricted and repetitive behaviors are present, such as proficient and categorical knowledge about an intense interest. Although individuals with Asperger’s do not have speech delay, the subtleties of language may still be problematic, such as understanding sarcasm, irony, and abstract concepts. It is common for individuals with a previous diagnosis of Asperger’s to have delays in motor skills and to appear clumsy or awkward.

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