Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and interactions as well as restricted, repetitive behaviors. A child may show symptoms of ASD within the first three years of life, though symptoms could go unrecognized.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 54 children in the United States has ASD. ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups and currently is approximately four times more common among boys than girls.

Frequently Asked Questions About ASD

What are the symptoms of ASD?

Symptoms of ASD can occur in two categories.

Social-Communication

  • Poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Delayed language development (infrequently, some children will “regress” in language skills)
  • Poor eye contact during interactions
  • Trouble understanding the perspective of others
  • Challenges with reciprocity during play, social interactions and conversations
  • Lack of peer interest

Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests

  • Immediate or delayed echolalia (repeating words while learning to speak)
  • Has repetitive motor movements (such as rocking and hand or finger flapping)
  • Is preoccupied by certain objects or topics
  • Sensory interests (e.g., interest in objects with lights that move or make sounds)
  • Sensitive to sounds, textures or tastes
  • Has rituals
  • Requires routines

Because ASD is a highly heterogeneous disorder, the symptoms of ASD are not the same in every child. The severity of the symptoms will also vary by child. Because of this, it is important to talk with a specialist if you feel your child may have ASD.

What is the treatment for a child with ASD?

Several types of therapy and treatment may help a child reach their full potential, including:

  • Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Medication

Learn more about ASD therapies and treatments offered at CHOC.

How do I interact with a child who has ASD?

Children with ASD have trouble relating to other people. They may have difficulty making eye contact and may seem uninterested in relating to family members. On the other hand, some children with ASD may love talking at length with family members, friends and even strangers about a subject they are interested in.

If you are a parent or grandparent of a child with an ASD, you may find it difficult to connect with them. Learning more about these disorders may help you understand the child in your life, and help you improve your relationship with them.

Communication and Interaction Tips for ASD

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to communicate with a child who has ASD, but many family members have had success with these tips:

  • Try to be patient. It often takes a child with ASD longer to process information, so you may need to slow down your conversation to their speed or match their language
  • Teach the child how to communicate without engaging in inappropriate behaviors that may include aggression, self-injurious behaviors, and other disruptive behaviors.
  • Be persistent yet resilient. Don’t let your feelings get hurt if the child does not respond to you as you’d like. Children with ASD may have trouble both expressing and regulating their emotions and can be blunt in their responses—don’t take this personally.
  • Try to stay positive. Children with ASD respond best to positive reinforcement, so be sure to mention or reward good behavior as soon as you see it.
  • Ignore inappropriate behaviors that function as to elicit attention-. Children with ASD may exhibit challenging behaviors at times to get you to focus on them. Ignoring this behavior is often the best way to prevent it, if it is safe to do so.
  • Interact through physical activity. Running around and playing outside may be a good way of sharing time together. It will also allow your child to relax and feel calmer.
  • Show your love and interest. Children with an ASD may have difficulty expressing their feelings, but they still need to know that you love them. Go out of your way to express your interest, caring and support.

Interacting with your child or grandchild who has ASD may be challenging at times, but it is one of the most important things you can do to help them learn. Research shows that early, frequent and loving intervention from family members is one of the best ways to help children with an ASD.

Health Feature: Kids and Autism

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are typically diagnosed in toddlers or young children based on certain behavioral patterns; there is no medical diagnostic test. “There are changes in three areas of behavior that lead to a diagnosis,” Dr. Philip Schwartz says. “One is communication and the others are sociability and repetitive behaviors, where the child does the same thing over and over. These children have trouble communicating. They don’t make that connection. There’s little eye contact or emotional content in their interactions with other people, including their parents.”

Boy smiling at the park

Living with Autism

Raising a Child with Autism:
What I Wish I Knew Sooner

Teri Book shares what she’s learned as a nurse caring for children with autism, and also as a mother of a child with autism.


A First-Hand Account of Autism
In this CHOC Radio podcast, three local children with autism share what life is like for them at home and at school, and offer tips that can help teachers, parents and other children with autism.


5 Things Parents Should Do
After an Autism Diagnosis

In the days and weeks following a diagnosis, families experience a wide range of emotions. Clinical social worker Maureen Dillon offers tips for parents that have a child recently diagnosed with autism.