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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by deficits in communication and social behavior, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. Symptoms of ASD are present from early childhood and limit or impair everyday functioning.

Social skills deficits associated with ASD include:

  • Failure of back-and-forth conversation
  • Reduced sharing of emotions and interests
  • Failure to initiate or respond to social interactions
  • Abnormal eye contact
  • Deficits in understanding and using body language and/or gestures
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships
  • Difficulties adjusting behavior in various social contexts
  • Difficulties sharing in imaginative play

Restricted/repetitive behaviors associated with ASD include:

  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements
  • Lining up toys or objects
  • Echolalia (i.e. meaningless repetition of someone else’s spoken words)
  • Insistence on sameness
  • Inflexible adherence to routines
  • Extreme distress at small changes
  • Difficulties with transitions
  • Rigid thinking patterns
  • Highly restricted and abnormally intense interests
  • Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input
  • Unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment

There may be large differences between individuals with ASD diagnoses, as symptoms occur along a continuum or spectrum. ASD is specified with a severity level, ranging from Level 1 (least severe) to Level 3, which describes the level of support needed. Severity may vary by context and change over time.

Regardless of severity, however, ASD requires treatment. People with untreated ASD may experience academic underachievement, difficulty securing gainful employment, difficulty with independent living, and social isolation.

ASD may occur in the context of intellectual impairment, language impairment, a known medical or genetic condition, and/or a co-occurring neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral condition. Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder are two previously separate subtypes of ASD that are now subsumed into the single ASD diagnosis.