Frequently Asked Questions

What is autism or ASD?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.

ASDs are "spectrum disorders." That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

Is there a cure for autism?

There is currently no cure for ASDs. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child's development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to your child's doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has an ASD or other developmental problem.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

Handleman, J.S., Harris, S., eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism (2nd ed). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 2000.

National Research Council. Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

What causes autism?

We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD.

Children who have a sibling or parent with an ASD are at a higher risk of also having an ASD.

ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain other medical conditions. About 10% of children with an ASD have an identifiable genetic disorder, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis , Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders.

Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy have been linked with a higher risk of ASDs, for example, the prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid.

We know that the once common belief that poor parenting practices cause ASDs is not true.

There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASDs occurs before birth. However, concerns about vaccines and infections have led researchers to consider risk factors before and after birth.

ASDs are an urgent public health concern. Just like the many families affected in some way by ASDs, CDC wants to find out what causes the disorder. Understanding the risk factors that make a person more likely to develop an ASD will help us learn more about the causes. We are currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) . SEED is looking at many possible risk factors for ASDs, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

How is autism diagnosed?

Diagnosing ASDs can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child's behavior and development to make a diagnosis.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

How early can autism be diagnosed?

ASDs can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with an ASD might not get the help they need.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

Lord C, Risi S, DiLavore PS, Shulman C, Thurm A, Pickles A. Autism from 2 to 9 years of age. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;63(6):694-701.

What are the early indicators of autism?

A person with an ASD might:
Not respond to their name by 12 months
Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
Not play "pretend" games (pretend to "feed" a doll) by 18 months
Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
Have delayed speech and language skills

Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
Give unrelated answers to questions
Get upset by minor changes
Have obsessive interests
Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 12). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

What is causing the rise in the rate of autism?

Understanding the Rise in Autism - March 30, 2012 - A new report by the CDC estimates 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have some form of autism. That's a 23 percent increase since 2006 and a 78% increase since 2002. In this interview, Lisa Shulman, M.D., puts the latest report in context. Dr. Shulman is associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Einstein and an attending physician in pediatrics at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore. Dr. Shulman speaks with Paul Moniz, managing director of communications and marketing of Einstein.