What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability characterized by social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASD have different levels of learning, thinking, and problem solving abilities, ranging from severely impaired to gifted.

ASD encompasses several disorders that were previously distinct under the old classification system, including autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) merged these disorders into one diagnosis of ASD.

History of ASD

The word “autism” was originally used as a description of self-centered thinking in people with schizophrenia. The term was later used in the 1930’s by psychiatrist Leo Kanner to describe children with unusual social interactions and learning behavior. Autism was believed to be caused by cold, rejecting parents or “refrigerator mothers,” but this belief has since been invalidated. Over the past few decades, research on autism has greatly increased and today scientists know that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder not caused by cold parenting.

How prevalent is ASD?

An estimated 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD (Center for Disease Control, 2014). ASD is much more common among boys (estimated 1 in 42) than among girls (estimated 1 in 189).

Helpful Links:

ABCT Fact Sheet on Autism

Autism Society

Autism Speaks

Autism at Centers for Disease Control