Autism Society of Wisconsin

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism is a complex neurological disorder affecting individuals primarily in the areas of social interaction, communication and behaviors. Autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in at least 1 in 68 individuals (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March, 2014). ASDs begin during early childhood and last throughout a person's life.

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder — meaning the symptoms can occur in any combination and with varying degrees of severity. Autistic disorder is the most commonly known type of ASD, but there are others, including “Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified” (PDD-NOS) and Asperger's Syndrome.

Your child's early development is a journey. Use this map of milestones to know what to look for along the way.

ASW Autism 101 Webinar

To learn more about autism spectrum disorders view this free one hour webinar presented by Sharon Hammer.

What are some of the characteristics of ASDs?

People with ASDs may have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASDs also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things.

A child or adult with an ASD:

  • May not understand imagination or play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • May not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over)
  • May spin objects or themselves
  • May have trouble turning attention when directed to
  • May have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • May avoid eye contact or prefer to be alone
  • May have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • May avoid physical contact
  • May not imitate others
  • May appear to be unaware when other people talk to them but respond to other sounds
  • Might be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • Might repeat or echo words or phrases in place of normal language (echolalia)
  • May have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • May have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • Might have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
  • May have difficulty entering conversations and taking turns within conversations
  • May interpret language in the literal sense (may not understand figurative language such as “Let's hit the road”)

If you are concerned about your child's development, don't wait - contact your health care provider for an evaluation.

More information on autism can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.