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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a “neurodevelopmental disability.” which means it is a disorder of brain development. Children and adults with ASD have differences with how they interact with people and in their interests or behaviors. These start in early childhood and impact day-to-day life.

Not every person with Autism Spectrum Disorder will show all of these symptoms.

The examples listed below do not include all possible symptoms. Some of these behaviors may change as children get older. For example, older children and adults may be able to have a conversation better than a very young child.

Some characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder include:

Reciprocal social communication and social interaction

  • Trouble with “social-emotional reciprocity” or the back-and-forth of social interaction (trouble with conversations, sharing emotions or interests, and what to do when other people interact with them).
  • Trouble with “nonverbal communication” used for social interaction (“body language” we use, such as, eye contact, facial expression, and gestures).
  • Trouble with making, keeping, and describing “social relationships”(understanding the difference between a friend and classmate, playing “pretend,” and maintaining a friendship).

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

Repetitive ways of:

  • Moving the body (example: hand flapping).
  • Using objects (example: lining up toys).
  • Repetitive motor movements (such as hand flapping or toe walking). Also, known as "Stimming".
  • Speaking (example: repeating words/phrases over and over).

Also, may include:

  • A need to follow routines (example: a hard time with transitions, getting upset when things are changed).
  • Very strong, specific interests
  • Being under-sensitive or overly sensitive to sensory input (example: smelling objects, not liking certain noises).

These behaviors may be different from person to person. Everyone has different areas of strength and challenge. No two people with Autism are the same. As they say, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 88 children have ASD. To read this full report, click here

To find more information about “What is Autism?”, helpful tip sheets, and other resources, click on the links below:


Interacting with Autism - Sensory Overload - Some people with autism have difficulty processing intense, multiple sensory experiences at once. This animation gives the viewer a glimpse into sensory overload, and how often our sensory experiences intertwine in everyday life.

However, some people with autism may experience other sensory issues, such as, being under-responsive to sensory stimuli or seeking out sensation. The video below only gives one example of a sensory experience, but does not neccessarly reflect all experiences. Click here for more information about sensory issues and autism from Interacting with Autism.

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

What causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

There is no single known cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many risk factors have been associated with Autism, including:

  • Genetic factors
  • Advanced parental age
  • Prenatal risk factors, including certain maternal infections and prematurity

Autism is not caused by parenting “style,” or how parents interact with their children. It is a disorder of brain development with many complex causes.

Many parents are concerned about possible links between vaccines and Autism. Large research studies have not found any evidence that vaccines cause Autism.

To learn more about vaccines and what research says about causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder, click on the links below:

What are the different types of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

There used to be several types of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. In the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book used to make psychiatric and developmental diagnoses, these are now all called “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Rett Syndrome is now a separate genetic diagnosis.

For more information on DSM-5, click on the links below: