Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism is four times more likely to occur in males than females and affects an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States (2009).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM IV) categorizes ASDs into three types within a continuum:

Autistic Disorder:
This is what most people think of when hearing the word “autism.” People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.

Asperger Syndrome:
People with Asperger syndrome usually have milder symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However, they typically do not have delays with language or intellectual disability.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS)
People who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all, may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. For example, they may have only a social impairment.

Recently, the phrase autism spectrum disorder has been used in the literature to refer collectively to people with one of these diagnoses.

Signs of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder include:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

The CDC recommends that all children be screened specifically for ASDs during well-child check-ups at 18 and 24 months and even more carefully if the child is considered high risk for developmental disabilities. The American Academy of Pediatrics also endorses early and continuous surveillance and screening for ASDs. (CDC, 2010)


Occupational therapy practitioners can be instrumental in helping to identify the early signs suggestive of an ASD. Young children on the autism spectrum often have difficulty participating in appropriate play, meeting developmental milestones, communicating effectively with others, making and keeping friends and conforming to expected behavioral norms. School-age children frequently need special education supports and services to benefit from their educational program.

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