Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – is a brain-based developmental disability that affect a child's ability to communicate, understand language, play and relate to others.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – is a brain-based developmental disability that affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play and relate to others.

The diagnostic criteria are outlined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5).

ASD affects an estimated one in 59 births (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network).  This means as many as 1.5 million Americans today are believed to have an autism spectrum disorder.  Autism is typically diagnosed by three years of age; however, researchers at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) are currently working to detect the signs and symptoms of autism at the earliest age possible.  By detecting autism at a young age, children can gain earlier access to intervention services.

A diagnosis of autism is made when an individual displays at least five of seven symptoms distributed across two major areas:  1) persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, and manifest by 3 of 3 symptoms, and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and/or activities as manifest by at least 2 of 4 symptoms.  The symptoms must be present in early childhood but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities.

A severity assessment scale ranging from 1-3 is also included in the DSM-5 as follows: Level 1 “requiring support,” Level 2 “requiring substantial support” and Level 3 “requiring very substantial support” to identify how much support an individual with ASD requires for help with daily functioning.

Children with ASD vary widely in abilities, intellectual functioning, and behaviors/interests.  Therefore, it is important to focus on the individual child’s behavioral and learning profile when making intervention decisions and recommendations. 

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