Seven Must-Know Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Heather Elise Duge via Children’s HealthSM




1. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development manifested in early childhood. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social communication, such as verbal or nonverbal communication skills and social interaction skills, and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. It also is important to know that ASD is a heterogeneous group of disorders meaning that it impacts each individual differently. Taking the time to get to know each individual is crucial to understanding how ASD impacts him or her specifically.

2. The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder has increased in recent years.

As of 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.This is due to a number of factors including but not limited to increased awareness of the condition and changes in diagnostic criteria.

3. Parents should watch for early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

As early as 2 months old, parents may notice inconsistent eye contact. Children with ASD may show some or all of these signs.

Signs to look for include:

Social Communication Skills

  • No back and forth vocalizations or sharing of facial expressions between baby and parents by 12 months old
  • No babbling by 12 months old
  • Not responding to his/her name by 12 months old
  • Lack of or limited gesture use, such as reaching or pointing
  • Lack of showing objects to or attempting to direct other’s attention to objects or activities of interest. For example, a child pointing to a tiger at the zoo with the intent to show others, or holding up a new toy to show mom or dad.
  • No meaningful two-word phrases by 24 months old
  • Any loss of language skills or social skills

Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors

  • Intense interest in an activity or object in a way that it becomes difficult to attract their attention
  • Playing with toys in the same way repeatedly and without apparent function, such as lining up blocks
  • Being more interested in certain parts of toys rather than using toys as they were intended. For example, a child who enjoys opening and closing the door on a toy car instead of rolling it along the ground.
  • Interest in sensory sensations such as the look, feel, taste or sounds of objects
  • Gets upset by sensory sensations such as lights, sounds, tastes
  • Gets upset by minor changes in routines
  • Moves his/her body in repetitive or unusual ways such as flapping hands, posturing fingers, bounding up and down, spinning in circles

4. If a child is showing early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is better to refer the child for a diagnostic assessment rather than use the wait-and-see approach.

The earlier Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better. Recent research has indicated children can be identified as being at risk for ASD by 12 months, and we can validly and reliably diagnose as early as 18 months of age. Outcomes for children’s lives are improved with early diagnosis and treatment.

5. Autism Spectrum Disorder is not caused by vaccines or poor parenting.

There is no scientific or medical evidence that vaccines cause autism. The Institute of Medicine looked at the majority of studies and the link between the measles vaccine and Autism Spectrum Disorder. At least 14 studies have failed to find a causal link. One reason that vaccines may have been linked to autism in the past is that they often are administered at 12-15 months old, and that happens to be the age when children are rapidly developing communication skills and the signs of autism are more obvious.

Parents do not and cannot cause Autism Spectrum Disorder. Genetic and environmental risk factors both play a role, but it is known that parental behavior before, during and after pregnancy cannot cause Autism Spectrum Disorder to develop.

6. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are able to form meaningful relationships.

A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may struggle with social skills, which can make it difficult to interact with peers. He or she might seem shy or unfriendly because of the inability to communicate his or her desire for relationships, or the child has less interest in develop social relationships. But Autism Spectrum Disorder does not make an individual unable to experience emotions or enjoy social interactions and relationships. Instead, individuals with autism may have difficulty communicating emotions, interacting, and understanding others’ emotions, or they may just respond to others or express their emotions in different ways.

7. There is currently no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although Autism Spectrum Disorder cannot be cured, when a child receives intensive behavioral therapy, he or she may show significant advances in social and communication skills. Early educational and behavioral interventions have positive effects on some children. Therapy needs to be tailored to an individual child’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

 We Can Help

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, a joint endeavor between UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health, offers clinical and research services for individuals with autism across the lifespan. Clinical programs focus on early identification of Autism Spectrum Disorder and initial diagnoses for children and adolescents. Treatment of behavioral and psychiatric issues also is available for individuals with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Ongoing research studies are aimed at understanding the genetic and brain bases of autism and related disorders, and determining how these biological mechanisms cause behavioral and cognitive issues.

For more information, contact the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities: 214-648-0102

For information about current research studies and opportunities to participate in research at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities: 214-648-5155