Autism: Understanding It

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;

  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;

  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,

  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

    The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer includes Asperger’s syndrome; the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome are included within the broader category of ASD.

    Information on ASD can also be found on the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website .