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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.

While there is currently no known single cause of autism, early diagnosis helps a person receive the support and services that they need, which can lead to a quality life filled with opportunity.

Characteristics & Diagnosis

 Autism is characterized in the DSM-V by:

  1. Persistent differences in communication, interpersonal relationships, and social interaction across different environments

What this can look like: Being nonverbal or having atypical speech patterns, having trouble understanding nonverbal communication, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty maintaining typical back-and-forth conversational style 

  1. Restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities and interests

What this can look like: Repeating sounds or phrases (echolalia), repetitive movements, preference for sameness and difficulty with transition or routine, rigid or highly restricted and intense interests, extreme sensitivity to or significantly lower sensitivity to various sensory stimuli

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is used by clinicians to diagnose autism, these core features of autism must be present in early childhood but may not fully manifest until social demands exceed the person’s capacity to cope with them, and challenges may be masked by learned coping strategies.

To learn more about receiving an autism diagnosis in Kansas or Missouri, please contact us for a list of providers.

Prevalence

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 59 – twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125. The spotlight shining on autism, as a result, has opened opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve people on the autism spectrum and their families. 

Although autism impacts people regardless of race or ethnicity, there are racial and ethnic disparities in diagnosis. According to the CDC, ADDM reports have consistently noted that more white children are identified with ASD than black or Hispanic children. Previous studies have shown that stigma, lack of access to healthcare services due to non-citizenship or low-income, and non-English primary language are potential barriers to the identification of children with ASD, especially among Hispanic children. A difference in identifying black and Hispanic children with ASD relative to white children means these children may not be getting the services they need to reach their full potential.

This ADDM report found that the racial and ethnic differences in identifying 8-year-old children with ASD persist, but also some indications that the differences may be narrowing.

Currently, boys are also approximately 4.5 times more likely to have an autism diagnosis than girls of the same age. However, recent research suggests that girls may not show autism in the same way as boys and might go undiagnosed because of that. 

Early Signs

Autism impacts an individual throughout the lifespan. However, research shows that early diagnosis can lead to improved quality of life. For more information on developmental milestones, visit the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” site. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Speaks later than typical or not at all (nonverbal)

  • Repetition in language or movement, such as repeating the same word or sounds, hand flapping, or any repeated movement 

  • Atypical nonverbal communication, including avoiding eye contact, giving few facial expressions, or having a monotone

  • Prefers solitary or parallel play rather than engaging in associative or cooperative play with other children

  • Extremely distressed by changes, including new foods or changes in schedule

  • Preference for predictable, structured play over spontaneous or make-believe play 

  • Strong, persistent interest on specific topic, part of a toy, or item

To learn more about autism at every age, visit Autism Society of America’s webpage about Autism Through the Lifespan

Facts and Statistics

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)

Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 54 births. (CDC, 2020)

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). (CDC, 2014) Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. (CDC, 2020)

Prevalence has increased by 6-15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010. (Based on biennial numbers from the CDC)

Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually. (Buescher et al., 2014)

A majority of costs in the U.S. are in adult services – $175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism. 2007 Sep;11(5):453-63; The economic consequences of autistic spectrum disorder among children in a Swedish municipality. Järbrink K1.)

1 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom has autism spectrum disorder. (Brugha T.S. et al., 2011)

The U.S. cost of autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability, or $1.4 million for a person without intellectual disability. (Buescher et al., 2014)

35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. (Shattuck et al., 2012)

It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism. (Lavelle et al., 2014) (The average cost of educating a student is about $12,000 – NCES, 2014)

In June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed, meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed. (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed.) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014)

*2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 Copyright the Autism Society of America. All rights reserved. Facts and Statistics last updated 2015.