What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurologically-based 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 right away. 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. However, as many children with autism develop, they may likely have other developmental, learning, language, or behavioral issues or diagnoses. Others, while not very common, may improve so much that they might no longer be considered to have a diagnosis of ASD.
How Common is ASD?
ASD affects about 1 in 59 children. Boys are diagnosed with ASD about 5 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.
Also, there have been changes in how ASD is defined and diagnosed. In the past, only children with the most severe autism symptoms were diagnosed. Now children with milder symptoms are being identified and helped.
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.See Where We Stand: Autism.