Learn the Signs. Act Early.

The "Learn the Signs. Act Early." a CDC program, aims to change perceptions about the importance of identifying developmental concerns early and gives parents and professionals the tools to help.

From birth to 5 years, children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak and act. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of an ASD or other developmental disabilities.

CDC provides free materials  (www.cdc.gov/actearly) to help parents and early educators track young children's developmental milestones, tips  for encouraging children's growth and development, and information about what to do if there's a concern about a child's development.

Defining Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.  Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.

Autism Spectrum Disorder has specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).

 Autism Fact Sheet
 Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet

Who is Affected?

ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are almost five times more common among boys than among girls. CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children (2014 CDC) has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Types of ASD

There are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders:

  • Autistic Disorder (also called "classic" autism)
    This is what most people think of when hearing the word "autism."  People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.
  • Asperger Syndrome
    People with Asperger syndrome usually have some milder symptoms of autistic disorder.  They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests.  However, they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.
  • Pervasive Developmental DisorderNot Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS; also called "atypical autism")
    People who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all, may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder.  The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges.

Signs and Symptoms

ASDs begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person's life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.
A person with an ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games (pretend to "feed" a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Prevalence of Autism

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, April 2012) identify around 1in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 48 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Scientist do not know all of the causes of ASDs.  However, they have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD.  There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

  • Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD.
  • Children who have a sibling or parent with an ASD are at a higher risk of also having an ASD.
  • ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain other medical conditions. About 10% of children with an ASD have an identifiable genetic disorder, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders.
  • Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy have been linked with a higher risk of ASDs, for example, the prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid.
  • We know that the once common belief that poor parenting practices cause ASDs is not true.
  • There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASDs occurs before birth. However, concerns about vaccines and infections have led researchers to consider risk factors before and after birth.

 

 

CDC 2014, Autism Society of America 2014