Autism 101

Article
Sep. 7, 2022Updated Oct. 31, 2022

Officially diagnosed as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism is a developmental disability that can present in many different ways. According to the latest data from the CDC, 1 in 44 children have been identified with autism, with the rate of diagnosis increasing annually.

It’s important to know that every child diagnosed with autism is different. The experiences and severity of symptoms will vary for each child, which is why autism is considered to be a “spectrum.” A child must show multiple behavioral traits that fit within certain categories in order to receive an autism diagnosis, but which criteria and how the symptoms are showing up will look different for everyone.

What are the signs and symptoms of autism?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) criteria, a child must show “persistent deficits in three areas of social communication and interaction plus at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviors” in order to be diagnosed with autism.

While this criteria helps provide a diagnosis, it does not mean that the behaviors a child might present with will look the same for each individual. For example, one child with deficits in social awareness may struggle to reach out to their peers to initiate new connections, while another child may be very interested in meeting new people but has social anxiety. Here are some common signs and symptoms:

  • A child with autism may avoid eye contact, be unable to respond to their name, lack appropriate facial expressions, use very few gestures, or show delays in other developmentally appropriate responses.
  • Children with autism may also demonstrate repetitive behaviors or interests that lie outside of what is developmentally expected. This could look like a child being upset when their blocks are moved out of order, repeating the same phrases or words, getting frustrated with minor changes to their routine, or showing other signs of repetitive or restricted behavior.
  • Many kids with autism have co-occurring conditions. Some commonly associated conditions include ADHD, asthma, epilepsy, sleep and immune disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, and OCD.

How is autism diagnosed?

After talking with a child’s caregivers, a pediatrician may recommend seeing a specialist who is qualified to evaluate and diagnose autism. See our article Diagnosing Autism to learn about which professionals are qualified to do this, the diagnostic tools they use, and the pros and cons of seeking a diagnosis in order to start early intervention therapies.

In this clip, Dr. Stephen Kanne (a clinical pediatric neuropsychologist and director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain) offers advice to parents about working with their pediatrician or primary care provider to screen their child for autism:

While every child is different, some of the most common supports for autism include occupational therapy, behavioral therapy (such as ABA or alternatives to ABA), speech therapy, and social skills training. Check out this article for a more comprehensive list of the professionals who may be part of your child’s care team as well as the therapies they might recommend.

In this clip, Dr. Kanne touches on various therapeutic approaches for kids who have been diagnosed with autism:

How can parents fund their child’s medical and therapeutic needs?

It’s important to know that an autism diagnosis can open up options for therapies and services available through various public benefits programs. In addition to private insurance, here are some potential resources for funding early intervention therapies, behavioral therapy such as ABA, and more:

See this article for our full guide to funding resources that may be available to pay for your child’s treatments and services.

What are some autism organizations where parents can find resources?

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Contents


Overview

What are the signs and symptoms of autism?

How is autism diagnosed?

What kinds of therapies/therapists are recommended for autism?

How can parents fund their child’s medical and therapeutic needs?

What are some autism organizations where parents can find resources?

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