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What is Autism

Defining Autism

According to the CDC, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Autism occurs five times more in boys than girls and across all socio-economic, ethnic, and racial groups. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children (2014 CDC) has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Prevalence of Autism

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2014) identify around 1 in 68 American children 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

Scientists 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, such as Fragile X Syndrome or Tuberous Sclerosis, Down Syndrome and other chromosomal disorders.

  • Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy have been linked with a higher risk of ASDs (i.e., 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.

  • Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.

Diagnosing Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder has specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Types of ASD

According to the DSM-5, there are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders:


Level 1

People with level 1 autism have noticeable issues with communication skills and socializing with others. They can usually have a conversation, but it might be difficult to maintain a back-and-forth banter.  Others at this level might find it hard to reach out and make new friends. According to the DSM-5, people who receive a diagnosis of level 1 autism require support. 



  • decreased interest in social interactions or activities

  • difficulty initiating social interactions, such as talking to a person

  • ability to engage with a person but may struggle to maintain a give-and-take of a typical conversation

  • obvious signs of communication difficulty

  • trouble adapting to changes in routine or behavior

  • difficulty planning and organizing

Level 2

The DSM-5 notes those with level 2 autism require substantial support. The symptoms associated with this level include a more severe lack of both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. This often makes daily activities difficult. 


  • difficulty coping with change to routine or surroundings

  • significant lack of verbal and nonverbal communication skills

  • behavior issues severe enough to be obvious to the casual observer

  • unusual or reduced response to social cues, communication, or interactions

  • trouble adapting to change

  • communication using overly simple sentences

  • narrow, specific interests

Level 3

This is the most severe level of autism. According to DSM-5, those at this level require very substantial support. In addition to a more severe lack of communication skills, people with level 3 autism also display repetitive or restrictive behaviors. 


  • highly visible lack of verbal and nonverbal communication skills

  • very limited desire to engage socially or participate in social interactions

  • trouble changing behaviors

  • extreme difficulty coping with unexpected change to routine or environment

  • great distress or difficulty changing focus or attention

Click here for more information from the CDC.


It’s Your Decision. Each individual with autism brings a unique collection of strengths and challenges to daily living. Because Autism manifests differently in each person, families have to make complicated personal decisions for education, treatment, and interventions to assist their child. It is important to do your own research and make your own informed decisions. Please note that the Autism Support of West Shore does not endorse any specific therapy, product, treatment, strategy, opinions, service or individual. We do, however, endorse your right to information. Autism Support of West Shore seeks to celebrate and support all of these individuals and families.

Autism Support of West Shore seeks to celebrate and support all of these individuals and families.

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