Autism Spectrum Disorder – Description

Autism is now considered to be a spectrum of disorders with many shared deficits and excesses. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about the outward appearance of a person with ASD that sets them apart from other people, but adults and children with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.1 The abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. While some people with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.2

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately. For descriptions of the following, please click here.

  • autistic disorder
  • childhood disintegrative disorder
  • pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Asperger syndrome

These conditions were melded into a single diagnosis called autism spectrum disorder in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual in 2013.

Prevalence and Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018, estimates the number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder in the United States is about 1 out of 59, among 8-year-old children. This is higher than previous years. Though it is very difficult to obtain accurate statistics in many countries, the World Health Organization estimates that 1 out of 160 children worldwide have ASD.3 Boys are consistently diagnosed with ASD at a higher rate than girls, 4 or 5 boys to 1 girl. Even though ASD can be diagnosed as early as 2 years of age, most children are not diagnosed by a community provider until after 4 years of age. 4 Early diagnosis is extremely important because the sooner intervention begins, the better your child’s chances are of reaching their full, God-given potential.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurobiological disorder that is not caused by bad parenting practices. Understanding the exact causes of ASD is very difficult and even controversial at times. Scientists believed there is a genetic component to autism, however, several other factors must come together to initiate the onset of the disorder. Since the symptoms of ASD vary in quality and intensity from person to person, it is believed that different environmental factors may play a role in “triggering” autism in different people.5

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  1. Adapted from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, Basics About ASD
  2. WHO, World Health Organization. Autism Spectrum Disorders: Key Facts. Retrieved from .
  3. WHO, World Health Organization. Autism Spectrum Disorders: Key Facts. Retrieved from
  4. CDC 2, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network: Community Report
    on Autism 2018.Retrieved from
  5. Haney, M. R. (2012). Understanding children with autism spectrum disorders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 65-88.