Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of pervasive developmental disorders characterized by impairments in communication, behavior and social interaction, and by repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. The most recent prevalence data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 88 children in the United States have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252). ASDs affect people of every race, ethnic group, and socioeconomic background.
Autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities. It is a neurologically based disorder that impacts the typical development of the brain and affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play and relate to others. ASD includes autism, pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. The expression and severity of symptoms of ASDs differ widely.
With the proper knowledge autism can be reliably detected as early as 18 months of age, offering hope for intervention during the period when the brain is most pliant. Some studies suggest that many infants may be accurately identified by the age of 1 year or younger.
The CDC’s ASD Signs and Symptoms webpage contains good information for families and lists possible “red flags” to watch for in your baby or child. During a well-baby/well-child visit, your child’s healthcare provider should perform a developmental screening, asking specific questions about the child’s progress.
Research indicates that early diagnosis is associated with significantly better outcomes for children with autism. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the earlier the child can begin benefiting from one of the many specialized intervention approaches.
Treatment of ASD symptoms include a range of behavioral, psychosocial, educational, medical, and complementary approaches that vary by a child’s age and developmental status. There is no definitive evidence or consensus on most appropriate treatments. Common behavioral interventions used in the treatment of ASD are based on learning theory and use procedures such as reinforcement, prompting, and shaping techniques to increase the rate of positive behaviors and reduce the frequency of challenging behaviors. Treatment typically focuses on building communication, play, social, academic, self-care, work, and community living skills and reducing the occurrence of challenging or problem behaviors.
More Information and Resources on Autism