Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disability that affects a child's social skills, communication, and behavior.
Because most children with ASD will sit, crawl, and walk on time, you may not notice delays in social and communication skills in the first year of life.
Looking back, many parents can recall early differences in interaction and communication. See What are the Early Signs of Autism?.
ASD symptoms may change as children get older and with intervention.
As many children with autism develop, they may likely have other developmental, learning, speech/language, behavioral issues, as well or other medical diagnoses. Other children, while not very common, may improve so much with intervention that they might no longer meet criteria for a a diagnosis of ASD.
How common is ASD?
An estimated 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with ASD by age 8, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Boys are diagnosed with ASD about
4 times more often than girls.
The number of children reported to have autism has increased since the early 1990s; the increase could be caused by many factors.
Many families are more aware of ASD.
Pediatricians are doing more screening for ASD, as recommended by the AAP, and children are identified earlier—which is a good thing.
Schools are more aware and children are receiving more appropriate special education services.
There have been many changes in how ASD is defined and diagnosed.
The benefits of early identification:
Each child with autism has different needs. The sooner autism is identified, the sooner an early intervention program directed at the child's symptoms can begin.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for ASD at their 18- and 24-month well-child checkups. Research shows that starting an intervention program as soon as possible can improve outcomes for many children with autism.
Editor's note: Children with ASD may have other medical problems that may need further evaluation and treatment. These may include seizures, problems with sleep, gastrointestinal problems (feeding problems, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and behavioral health problems (such as anxiety, ADHD, irritability, and aggression).