What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurologically-based developmental disorder, whose symptoms present at an early age (before age 2).  Individuals with autism spectrum disorder typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.  For this reason, they have problems knowing how to behave properly in social situations, have trouble relating to the outside world, and have to be taught behaviors that develop normally in most people.

The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that individuals with ASD can have.  Some individuals are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately:  autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.


1) Deficits in Social Communication and Social Interaction 

  •  Lacks interest in other children
  •  Failure to make friends (e.g., May be very interested in peers, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them)
  •  Lack of pretend play
  •  Prefers to be alone
  •  Poor use and/or interpretation of nonverbal communication (e.g., weak eye contact, misses social cues, facial expressions don’t match what he or she is saying)
  •  Inappropriate responses or emotional reactions
  •  Failure to communicate using words and/or gestures

2) Restricted, Repetitive Interests and Behaviors  

  •  Stereotyped, repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand flapping, echolalia)
  •  Resistance to change
  •  Insistence on sameness
  •  Restricted interest in certain activities
  •  Hypo- or hyper- sensory sensitivities