Autism spectrum disorder includes conditions that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and an unspecified form of pervasive developmental disorder.
Each child with autism spectrum disorder is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior and level of severity — from low functioning to high functioning. Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior.
Who is at risk
Children who have a brother or sister with autism are at higher risk. Boys are more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder than girls. Babies born before 26 weeks gestation. Children born to older parents. Children with other medical conditions such as fragile X syndrome or Rett syndrome.
A child or adult with autism spectrum disorder may have problems with social interaction and communication skills, including any of these signs:
- Fails to respond to his or her name or appears not to hear you at times
- Resists cuddling and holding, and seems to prefer playing alone, retreating into his or her own world
- Has poor eye contact and lacks facial expression
- Doesn't speak or has delayed speech, or loses previous ability to say words or sentences
- Can't start a conversation or keep one going, or only starts one to make requests or label items
- Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech
- Repeats words or phrases verbatim, but doesn't understand how to use them
- Doesn't appear to understand simple questions or directions
- Doesn't express emotions or feelings and appears unaware of others' feelings
- Doesn't point at or bring objects to share interest
- Inappropriately approaches a social interaction by being passive, aggressive or disruptive
- Has difficulty recognizing nonverbal cues, such as interpreting other people's facial expressions, body postures or tone of voice
What you can do
If you're concerned about your child's development or you suspect that your child may have autism spectrum disorder, talk to your child’s doctor.
Your doctor may recommend tests to identify if your child has delays in cognitive, language and social skills, if your child:
- Doesn't respond with a smile or happy expression by 6 months
- Doesn't mimic sounds or facial expressions by 9 months
- Doesn't babble or coo by 12 months
- Doesn't gesture — such as point or wave — by 14 months
- Doesn't say single words by 16 months
- Doesn't play "make-believe" or pretend by 18 months
- Doesn't say two-word phrases by 24 months
- Loses language skills or social skills at any age
Preventive service at no cost
All children at 18 months and 24 months
All children should be screened specifically for autism spectrum disorder during regular well-child doctor visits.
Why screening is important
Early diagnosis and intervention may improve behavior, skills and language development. Though children usually don't outgrow autism spectrum disorder symptoms, they may learn to function well.
What the screening is
There is no specific medical test to diagnose autism. Doctors use tools like a developmental screening and diagnostic evaluation.
While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children.
- Find help and support.
- Stick to a schedule.
- Reward good behavior.
- Work with your child’s doctor and school to develop a treatment plan.
- Supporting Individuals on the Autism Spectrum and their Families
- CDC Information
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Communication Problems in Children