Understanding Autism

Autism is a neurological disorder that often makes it hard to communicate and interact with others. The different areas of the brain that allow us to be social seem to not be working as well in individuals with autism. Although early diagnosis and treatment have helped more and more people with autism to reach their full potential, most will always have some social challenges.


The following “red flags” could be signs that a child should be evaluated for autism or a related communication disorder:

  • Does not respond to his/her name
  • Cannot explain what he/she wants
  • Language skills/speech are delayed or language skills are lost at some time in development (used to say a few words or babble, but now he/she doesn’t)
  • Doesn’t follow directions, acts deaf or seems to hear sometimes, but not others
  • Does not point or wave bye-bye
  • Repeats words he or she hears but does not use spontaneous language
  • Throws intense or violent tantrums, is hyperactive, uncooperative or oppositional
  • Has odd movement patterns and is very uncoordinated in movements (most noticeable when running or during gross motor activities)
  • Cannot sequence steps to accomplish a task (wants a cup off of the table but cannot sequence steps to get to cup)
  • Uses the same toys repeatedly and obsessively and never varies game, play pattern or activity with toys
  • Does not smile when smiled at and lacks emotional affect
  • Poor eye contact
  • Does not transition between activities
  • Seems to prefer to play alone and is not interested or aware of activities going on around him or her
  • Gets things for him/herself only
  • Does not share personal interest in item with parent or caregiver (“Look at this, Mom!”)
  • Child is very independent for age and hits milestones “early” compared to other children
  • Walks on his/her toes
  • Restrictively eats only a few favorite foods
  • Avoids or seeks messy activities involving hands or body
  • Avoids activities where feet leave the ground (swinging and/or climbing)
  • Child shows unusual attachments to toys, objects, or schedules (always holds something in hand or must put socks on before pants)
  • Child spends a lot of time lining things up or putting things in a certain order

Early Signs & Symptoms of Autism

12-14 months

  • Single words not emerging (by 16 months)
  • Lack of reciprocity
  • Lack of problem solving
  • Not responding to Name

18 months

  • Lack of motor gestures
  • Not beginning to pretend
  • Language not emerging for social interaction
  • No subtle looking

24 months

  • Lack of imaginative play
  • No meaningful two word phrases

36 months

  • Inability to verbalize Emotions
  • Difficulty interacting with peers
  • Difficulty with taking turns and sharing
  • Little to no pretend play
  • Little to no communication


There are guidelines used by doctors, psychologists to see if your child has symptoms of autism. These guidelines put symptoms into two categories:

Communication and Social interactions: For example, a child may have trouble making eye contact or may often repeat a certain phrase over and over. People with autism may have a hard time having back-and-forth interactions or conversations or understanding other’s thoughts and feelings.

Restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behavior: A child may seem to only be interested in cars or trains and may frequently repeat body movements such as flapping hands, pacing or rocking back and forth.


Treatment for autism involves a range of special educational and behavioral supports. These supports help children learn how to communicate more effectively, develop social skills and manage their own emotions and behavior as they grow older.

With early treatment, most children with autism learn to relate better to others. If supported well, children can learn to communicate and participate more actively and independently in everyday activities as they grow older.

Depending on the child, treatment may also include such things as speech therapy or physical therapy. Medicine is sometimes used to treat problems such as depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Exactly what type of treatment a child needs depends on the symptoms, which are different for each child and may change over time, Because people with autism are so different, something that helps one person may not help another. It is vital that everyone involved in a child’s education and care work together to find the best way to manage symptoms.

Facts & Stats

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children
  • Boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls
  • About 40% of children with autism do not speak. About 25%–30% of children with autism have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood
  • Autism greatly varies from person to person (no two people with autism are alike)
  • The rate of autism has steadily grown over the last twenty years
  • Comorbid conditions often associated with autism include Fragile X, allergies, asthma, epilepsy, bowel disease, gastrointestinal/digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, PANDAS, feeding disorders, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, OCD, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, immune disorders, autoimmune disorders, and neuroinflammation
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, yet most underfunded
  • A 2008 Danish Study found that the mortality risk among those with autism was nearly twice that of the general population
  • Children with autism do progress – early intervention is key
  • Autism is treatable, not a hopeless condition

Dealing With It

An important part of your child’s treatment plan is making sure that other family members get education and training about autism and how to manage symptoms. Training can reduce family stress and help your child function better. Some families need more help than others.

Take advantage of every kind of help you can find. Talk to your doctor about what help is available where you live. Family, friends, public agencies, and autism organizations are all possible resources.

Remember these tips:

  • Plan breaks. Daily demands of caring for a child with autism can take their toll. Planned breaks will help the whole family.
  • Get extra help as your child gets older. The teen years can be a very hard time for children with autism.
  • Get in touch with other families who have children with autism. You can talk about your problems and share advice with people who will understand.
  • Raising a child with autism is hard work. But with support and training, your family can learn how to cope.