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Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders

National Institutes of Health reports Autism and Autism Spectrum "Disorders as follows:

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
What is autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication.  Symptoms usually start before age three and can cause delays or problems in many different skills that develop from infancy to adulthood.

What is an autism spectrum disorder?
Different people with autism can have very different symptoms.  Health care providers think of autism as a “spectrum” disorder, a group of disorders with similar features.  One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have serious symptoms.  But they both have an autism spectrum disorder.

Currently, the autism spectrum disorder category includes:

  • Autistic disorder (also called “classic” autism)
  • Asperger syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (or atypical autism)

In some cases, health care providers use a broader term, pervasive developmental disorder, to describe autism.  This category includes the autism spectrum disorders above, plus Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett syndrome.

This Web site uses “autism spectrum disorder” and “autism” to mean the same thing. 

What are the symptoms of autism?
The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following areas:
  • Communication - both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling)
  • Social - such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
  • Routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors) - such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules, and playing in repetitive ways

The symptoms of autism can usually be observed by 18 months of age. 

There are many possible red flags for autism - behaviors that may be signs or symptoms of autism.  Some features may mean a delay in one or more areas of development, while others may be more typical of autism spectrum disorders.  If you think your child shows red flags for autism, talk to your health care provider.

Possible Red Flags for Autism

The child does not respond to his/her name.

The child cannot explain what he/she wants.

The child’s language skills are slow to develop or speech is delayed.

The child doesn’t follow directions.

At times, the child seems to be deaf.

The child seems to hear sometimes, but not other times.

The child doesn’t point or wave “bye-bye.”

The child used to say a few words or babble, but now he/she doesn’t.

The child throws intense or violent tantrums.

The child has odd movement patterns.

The child is overly active, uncooperative, or resistant.

The child doesn’t know how to play with toys.

The child doesn’t smile when smiled at.

! The child has poor eye contact.

The child gets “stuck” doing the same things over and over and can’t move on to other things.

The child seems to prefer to play alone.

The child gets things for him/herself only.

The child is very independent for his/her age.

The child does things “early” compared to other children.

The child seems to be in his/her “own world.”

The child seems to tune people out.

The child is not interested in other children.

The child walks on his/her toes.

The child shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules (i.e., always holding a string or having to put socks on before pants).

Child spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order.


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