About Autism - What is Autism

Early Signs

Autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviours which are markedly different from those of typical children.

What are autism spectrum disorders?
Scientists do not know yet exactly what causes this problem. ASDs can impact a person’s functioning at different levels, from very mildly to severely. There is usually nothing about how a person with an ASD looks that sets them apart from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most people. The thinking and learning abilities of people with ASDs can vary – from gifted to severely challenged.

There are five currently accepted official diagnoses:

• Autistic Disorder
• Asperger Disorder
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
• Rett Disorder
• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

What are some of the signs of ASDs?

People with ASDs may have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASDs also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. ASDs begin during early childhood and last throughout a person’s life.

A child or adult with an ASD might:

• not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll)
• not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over)
• not look at objects when another person points at them
• have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
• avoid eye contact and want to be alone
• have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
• prefer not to be held or cuddled or might cuddle only when they want to
• appear to be unaware when other people talk to them but respond to other sounds
• be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
• repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language (echolalia)
• have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
• repeat actions over and over again
• have trouble adapting when a routine changes
• have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
• lose skills they once had (for instance, stop saying words they were using)

Autism Diagnosis and Evaluation

CDC Reports Autism Prevalence Rate of 1 In 110 American Children, 1 In 70 Boys


• It is estimated that between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240 with an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an ASD

• ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, yet are on average 4 to 5 times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.

• If 4 million children are born in the United States every year, approximately 36,500 children will eventually be diagnosed with an ASD. Assuming the prevalence rate has been constant over the past two decades, we can estimate that about 730,000 individuals between the ages of 0 to 21 have an ASD.

• Studies in Asia, Europe and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an approximate prevalence of 0.6% to over 1%. [Data table]

• Approximately 13% of children have a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. [Read summary]

Economic Costs

• Recent studies have estimated that the lifetime cost to care for an individual with an ASD is $3.2 million. [Read summary]

• Individuals with an ASD had average medical expenditures that exceeded those without an ASD by $4,110–$6,200 per year. On average, medical expenditures for individuals with an ASD were 4.1–6.2 times greater than for those without an ASD. Differences in median expenditures ranged from $2,240 to $3,360 per year with median expenditures 8.4–9.5 times greater. [Read summary]

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