Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of brain disorders. The disorders result in social, behavioral, and communication problems.
and pervasive developmental disorders used to be separate problems. They are now included in ASD.
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it is caused by problems in brain development. The reason why this happens is not known. It is thought to be caused by genetics or problems during pregnancy, such as infection.
ASD is more common in boys. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Having a sibling who has ASD
Having a mother who is 40 years of age or older or a father who is 50 years of age or older
Problems during pregnancy or delivery
Many people with ASD also have other developmental, medical, or mental health problems. The reason why is not known.
ASD often appears between 2 to 6 years old. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include:
Communication and social interaction problems, such as:
Not making eye contact
Not listening to others
Not pointing or showing things to others
Not responding to others, such as when a person's name is called
Problems with back and forth communication
Talking about the same thing for a long time without noticing others are not interested
Having body language that does not match what is being said
Having a strange tone of voice, such as like a robot
Not understanding another person's feelings and needs
Narrow interests and behaviors, such as:
Repeating behaviors or having strange behaviors, such as repeating words or phrases
Having a strong interest in specific topics
Getting upset by small changes in routine
Being sensitive to sensory input, such as noise
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. You will also be asked questions about behavior, social skills, and communication abilities. Parents will be asked about their child's behavior. A physical will be done.
Tests will be done to learn more about how the person's brain works. This can be done with neuropsychological tests. The tests will be given by a care team that is experienced in diagnosing ASD.
These tests may be done to rule out health problems that have similar symptoms:
The goal of treatment is to improve function and quality of life. With treatment, many people can learn how to cope with ASD. They may be able to work and live on their own. Others may need support throughout their lives.
Symptoms may decrease over the years. Treatment should be started early. It may include:
Speech, physical, or occupational therapy to improve function
Social skills training to improve how a person relates to others
Applied behavioral analysis to improve behaviors, such as communication and social skills
Services that provide support in school
Mental health counseling
Medicine to help manage symptoms, such as anxiety
There are no current guidelines to prevent ASD. The cause is not known.
Autism spectrum disorder fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet. Accessed September 9, 2020.
Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml. Accessed September 9, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 3/17/2021
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