World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2019. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that may lead to considerable social, communication and behavioral challenges.
There is often nothing about how someone with ASD looks that sets them apart from others, however people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.
The learning, thinking, and problem-solving aptitude of those with ASD can vary from gifted to severely challenged. Many with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives, while others need less.
A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms
People with ASD might repeat certain behaviors and might not want to change their daily activities. Many also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.
Children or adults with ASD might not:
point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
look at objects when another person points at them
have an interest in other people at all
want to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
make eye contact and want to be alone
be aware when people talk to them but respond to other sounds
play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
Children or adults with ASD might have trouble:
relating to others
understanding other people’s feelings
talking about their own feelings
expressing their needs using typical words or motions
adapting when a routine changes
Children or adults with ASD might repeat:
words or phrases said to them
words or phrases in place of normal language
actions over and over again
Children or adults with ASD may also:
be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)
Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old learn important skills. Services include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others.
It is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has ASD or other developmental problems.
Even if your child has not been diagnosed with an ASD, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that children under the age of 3 years who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services.
These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.
In addition, treatment for particular symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not need to wait for a formal ASD diagnosis.
Who is Affected
ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls.
For over a decade, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network has been estimating the number of children with ASD in the United States.
They have learned a lot about how many U. S. children have ASD. It will be important to use the same methods to track how the number of children with ASD is changing over time in order to learn more about the disorder.
If You’re Concerned
If you think your child might have ASD or you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts, contact your child’s doctor, and share your concerns.
If you or the doctor is still concerned, ask for a referral to a specialist who can do an in-depth evaluation of your child.
Specialists who can do a more in-depth evaluation and make a diagnosis include:
Developmental Pediatricians (doctors with special training in child development and children with special needs)
Child Neurologists (doctors who work on the brain, spine, and nerves)
Child Psychologists or Psychiatrists (doctors who know about the human mind)
At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation.
You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.
Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:
If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system.
You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001.
Or visit the ECTA website
If your child is 3 years old or older, contact your local public school system.
Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
In order to make sure your child reaches his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for an ASD as soon as possible.
100 Days Kit, Autism Speaks
This kit provides information to help families get through the first steps of an autism diagnosis.
Caring for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians
A clinical resource to assist in the recognition, evaluation, and ongoing management of autism spectrum disorders throughout the patient’s lifespan from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Online
Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Online is for professionals interested in child development and behavior in a medical setting. The website focuses on primary care development and behavior, including early intervention and screening, and provides articles, handouts, and materials about developmental disabilities developed for professionals and parents. It also offers a practice section with information to support primary and specialty health care practice.