What is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition which is usually diagnosed in the first 3 years of life. Generally parents become concerned when their child has delays in speech development, limited social relatedness, and restricted interests and activities. The child may avoid direct eye contact and exhibit odd behaviors such as focusing on parts of objects (e.g. the spinning wheel of a toy car). There may be unusual motor movements such as hand flapping, self stimulation or walking on toes.

Although the cause of autism is unknown, it is generally believed that etiology may be due to multiple factors. Many genetic, environmental, metabolic and neurological conditions that affect the normal functioning of the brain are being researched. The diagnosis of autism requires disturbances in each of three domains: (1) social relatedness, (2) communication/play, and (3) restricted interests and activities.

  • Social relatedness includes marked impairment in non-verbal communication, peer relationships and social-emotional reciprocity.
  • Communication/play includes either a delay or total lack of spoken language and lack of developmentally-appropriate make-believe or social play.
  • Restricted interests and activities includes encompassing preoccupations, adherence to non-functional routines or rituals, stereotypies and motor mannerisms.

Treatment planning is complex since each child has different strengths and deficits. Evidence that earlier detection and provision of services improves long term prognosis makes early diagnosis particularly important to improve the child’s adaptive skills and future functioning. The diverse expression of these disorders both across and within individuals presents particular challenges for clinical diagnosis and treatment.

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