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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has gone by many names. Some that you might be familiar with include autism, PDD-NOS, Asperger Syndrome, Autistic Disorder, etc. With the recent publication (2013) of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 5), these separate diagnoses were all combined into one diagnostic category referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  • ASD is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life.
  • ASD is associated with difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors, which are described in DSM-5.
  • ASD is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. One person on the autism spectrum can look very different from another individual with the same diagnosis. For example, some individuals on the autism spectrum may rarely use words to communicate, while others may hold extensive conversations and use rich language. Some may not like to be hugged or touched, while others seek out and enjoy physical touch.
  • Many individuals on the autism spectrum also have other, co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, attention issues, seizures, and sleep disturbance.
  • ASD is found in people of all ethnicities, races, and from all different countries, and occurs more often in boys than girls.
  • Though autism research has come a long way in the past decade, the exact causes of ASD are not known in most cases. Research suggests that genetics are strongly involved; however, only about 15-20% of cases have an identified primary genetic cause.
  • While there is no "cure" for ASD, there are educational, behavioral, and therapeutic interventions and strategies for families and instructors to teach motor skills, cognitive skills, and social skills. These plans and programs are highly individualized, as the needs of each individual on the autism spectrum are different.

Additional Resources

Suggested Reading

A Practical Guide to Autism: What Every Parent, Family Member, and Teacher Needs to Know (2009) by Fred Volkmar and Lisa Wiesner. This book contains organized information regarding the selection of doctors, schools, services, and insurance, as well as day-to-day living in the family, school, and community. It includes lists of resources, both in print and on the Web.

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.