What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?


What is Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? 

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control's most recent report, prevalence was 27.6 per 1,000 (1 in 36) children aged 8 years - more than three times as much as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125.

Autism is a disability category under the special education regulations (IDEA 2004).  This section provides information and resources for teams determining eligibility for special education services within the educational identification of autism.  To qualify for special education services in the category of autism the child must have a developmental disability which significantly affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, is generally evident before age three, and that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

People with ASD share some similar characteristics, such as difficulty with social interaction; however, when the characteristics manifest, the extent to which they interfere with functioning differs from person to person.  Characteristics of ASD are generally noticed by caregivers between 2 and 3 years of age. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.