Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism

Understanding Autism

What is Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder?

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 typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum” disorder that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Previously, there were distinct sub-types of Autism, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), all autism disorders have merged into one diagnosis under ASD.

How Common is Autism?

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) March 2014 report, identify around 1 in 59 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. ASD affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Additionally, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered. The spotlight shown on autism as a result of the prevalence increase opens opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve families facing a potential lifetime of supports for their children.

What does it mean to be “on the spectrum”?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. However, symptoms and severity vary widely across these areas. Each individual with autism is unique! Some are on the high functioning end of the spectrum with exceptional abilities in visual skills, music, and academic skills. They may experience relatively mild challenges and often take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and unique ways of viewing the world. For others with autism, symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language interfere with everyday life. This may create significant challenges for the individual and their family. Programs, services, and support vary in every community. Learn what is happening in our community and in Ohio.