Autism 101

Photo: Autistic Child Playing with Blocks

One in every 68 children will develop autism spectrum disorder, known simply as ASD or autism. There is no clear way to prevent it, but early treatment improves the lives of those affected. The key is education – teaching parents more about the condition and how to recognize the signs that a child may be on the spectrum.

What is ASD (Austim Spectrum Disorder)?

Autism spectrum disorder is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder – in other words, it impairs growth and development of the brain and central nervous system.

What is autism? ASD includes conditions formally known as:

– Autism

– Asperger’s syndrome

– Childhood disintegrative disorder

– Pervasive developmental disorder

The exact cause of ASD is unclear. The current theory supports both a genetic and environmental role and individuals on the “spectrum” oftentimes have difficulty communicating (verbally and nonverbally), relating socially to other individuals, and doing repetitive behaviors.  There is no cure for this condition, but early specialized treatment can make all the difference.

What are the Warning Signs of Autism?

The warning signs of autism can appear as early as infancy for some children, but this is a very individualized condition. Children show signs at different ages, some appearing to develop normally and then becoming withdrawn, nonverbal or aggressive within the first few years.

Autism affects three areas of development:

– Social interaction

– Communication

– Behavior

The vast array of symptoms associated with ASD can make it hard to spot. Some Autism warning signs include:

– Failure to respond to his or her name – may seem to be in another world

– Resists being held or cuddled

– Prefers to play alone

– Poor eye contact

– Lack of facial expressions

– Robot-like speech or nonverbal

– Lacks emotion

– Doesn’t share an interest in other things

– Is passive, aggressive or disruptive

Babies with autism often fail to smile or show facial expressions. They may not mimic sounds or babble, either. Toddlers fail to play make-believe or create two-word phrases.

Certain patterns or movement are indicative of autism at any age, such as rocking or hand-flapping. Children on the spectrum often perform repetitive movements and may become disruptive when a normal routine are changed. An autistic child may refuse to eat foods unless they are crunchy or have a certain texture.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

From the moment a baby is born, healthcare professionals start looking for signs of development that may indicate a problem like autism. In order to make a diagnosis, the physician must follow specific criteria and look for problems in multiple situations.

– The inability to engage in normal conversation

– Nonverbal communication behaviors like failing to make eye contact or difficulty understanding body language.

– Trouble developing and maintaining relationships like sharing and imaginative play


A child must experience at least two specific patterns of behavior, as well.

– Odd or repetitive motor movements like spinning or hand-flapping

– Insistence on a routine or ritualized pattern

– Intense interest in unusual objects such as developing a strong attachment to the wheel of the model car

– Either extreme sensitivity or lack of sensitivity to sensory input like an indifference to pain or the overreaction to loud sounds

Behavior therapy and an individualized education plan are the best tools available for parents with autistic children. Programs like Applied Behavior Analysis provide the structure a child with ASD needs to thrive in a world still trying to understand this complex condition.