What is Autism?

Basic Facts, Myths and Helpful Links Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

The following information is derived directly from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

Individuals with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged, hence the term “spectrum”. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less. The scientific research surrounding Autism is advancing each day. Science now shows that Autism is a genetic neurological disorder, that can be attributed up to 75% based on the genetic make up of an individual. 

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Signs of ASD begin during early childhood development and sometimes last throughout a person’s life.

Children or adults with ASD might:

  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over);
  • not look at objects when another person points at them;
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all;
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone;
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings;
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to;
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds;
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them;
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language;
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions;
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll);
  • repeat actions over and over again;
  • have trouble adapting when a routine changes;
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound; and
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using).

Misconceptions Surrounding Autism

Common Misconceptions or Statements You Hear About Autism:

  • People with Autism look developmentally disabled.

The Truth: It is a common misconception that individuals with Autism would be distinguishable by sight. The reality is that people with Autism often look no different than people without disabilities.

  • People with Autism cannot feel or express any emotion.

The Truth: Individuals with Autism do not lack an ability to feel emotions, they sometimes lack an ability to properly communicate those emotions.

  • People with Autism are either intellectually challenged or a genius.

The Truth: Individuals with Autism range in intellectual abilities just as people without developmental disabilities do. Some people with Autism do indeed have higher than average IQ’s, while others struggle. Each individual is different.

  • People with Autism are just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

The Truth: Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. His or her capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.

  • People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with Autism are just odd and will grow out of it.

The Truth: Autism stems from genetics that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a lifelong condition. Receiving treatment for Autism can reduce the likelihood of the neurological condition being a lifelong condition.

  • Myth: The prevalence of Autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years.

The Truth: The rate of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years and continues to rise. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2009, an estimated 1 in 110 had an autism spectrum disorder. Scientists and geneticists are currently working to identify the cause of this increase and help discover any ways to mitigate it. 


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Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Statistics:

  • According to the CDC, currently 1 in every 59 children is identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8. This is up 15% from the previous CDC autism prevalence statistic. 
  • ASD is four times more common among boys (1 in 37) than among girls (1 in 151).
  • Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2%–18% chance of having a second child who is also affected.
  • Almost half (46%) of children identified with ASD has average to above average intellectual ability.
  • About 10% of children with autism are also identified as having down syndrom, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders.
  • Studies have shown that parents of children with ASD notice a developmental problem before their child’s first birthday. Concerns about vision and hearing were more often reported in the first year, and differences in social, communication, and fine motor skills were evident from 6 months of age.
  • In 2005, the average annual medical costs for Medicaid-enrolled children with ASD were $10,709 per child, which was about six times higher than costs for children without ASD ($1,812).
  • In addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with ASD cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year.

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Works Cited:

“Facts About ASD.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 Feb. 2015. Web. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html.

Drenner, J. “11 Myths About Autism.” Autism Speaks Official Blog. 21 Nov. 2011. Web. http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2011/11/21/11-myths-about-autism/.

“Data and Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 12 Aug. 2015. Web. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.


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