Why is Autism called “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)”?

ASD encompasses three diagnoses that fall under the term “Autism:” Autism (“Classical Autism”), Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).  These diagnoses differ slightly in diagnostic criteria but have very similar effects on learning, behavior and relationships. To find out more about each of these diagnoses, see our Diagnoses page!

What are signs of ASD?

While each case of Autism is unique, there are specific characteristics of each child that tell clinicians if they are on track – called “developmental milestones.” If a child hasn’t met a milestone in an appropriate time frame, a professional may suggest an evaluation for further assessment. These milestones start around age two months and continue throughout childhood. Most parents notice a red flag when their infants don’t make eye contact or share social smiles.
To find out more, click on these links:

Autism Signs from Autism Speaks: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs
Developmental Milestones: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/

Who can give the ASD diagnosis?

Developmental Pediatricians, Neurologists and Psychologists/Psychiatrists can give an ASD diagnosis.  If you see any signs that may indicate autism, talk to your pediatrician and get a recommendation for a developmental specialist.  The best treatment for ASD is early intervention!

The average age of diagnosis per CDC findings are:

Autistic disorder: 4 years and 10 months.
PDD-NOS: 4 years and 7 months.
Asperger’s: 6 years and 7 months.

If you’re concerned about your child’s development, or want to know more check out:

How is Autism treated?

There are a number of therapies used to treat behaviors associated with Autism including social-skills training, applied behavior analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.  Medication is also used for associated conditions such as neurological, gastrointestinal, genetic or mood disorders.

Autism is best treated through Early Intervention. With early intervention, a child may make significant progress—potentially increasing language and social skills as well as circumventing the development of aberrant behaviors. When a child with signs of autism is evaluated by their pediatrician, they may be referred to a specialist who can make the diagnosis determination.  From there, the families will be referred to state services (Division of Developmental Disabilities) and more evaluations will take place.  If a child under the age of three receives a diagnosis of Autism, At-Risk for Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Disability, Down Syndrome or Epilepsy, the child will be eligible for Early Intervention Services (AzEIP).  After the child’s third birthday, they will move out of AzEIP and into DDD’s services.  From there, additional evaluations will take place and the child will be referred for a home therapy program with possible additional supports from speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hippotherapy and feeding therapy.  These services are state-funded and if approved, can last up until the child’s sixth birthday.

If a child no longer meets requirements for eligibility, they may apply for insurance-funded services through the family’s private insurance.  Each insurance company has a different protocol for covering services, so families should check with their insurance provider for details.

When a child reaches school-age (six), they will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team consisting of a teacher, Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and/or School Psychologist depending on the family’s request.  Children may be eligible to receive services in school to help them with adaptive skills or they may be placed into a program specialized to best meet the child’s needs.

To find out more, click on these links:
DDD: https://www.azdes.gov/ddd
DDD eligibility and service information: Visit WORKING WITH YOU at http://www.azdes.gov/ddd
AzEIP: http://www.azdes.gov/azeip
School district websites: http://www.azed.gov/school-district-web-sites/
Arizona Department of Education (Special Education): http://www.azed.gov/special-education
Applied Behavior Analysis: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/applied-behavior-analysis-aba
Navigating DDD: http://azautism.org/resources/family/navigating-the-arizona-service-delivery-system/

What causes ASD?

Currently, there is no known cause of ASD. Research suggests that ASD is caused by genetic factors, which may be triggered by environmental causes. Exposure to environmental causes may occur in the womb or during or after birth. Ongoing studies are primarily focused on genetic and environmental causes, such as maternal illnesses during pregnancy, conditions during childbirth, and chemical exposures in the individual’s environment. ASD is not linked to parenting skill, vaccinations, food items or psychological factors. Given the many similarities and differences between individuals with ASDs, many researchers suggest that there is likely to be more than one cause of autism.


To see what the CDC has to say about ASD and their research, click here: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

How common is ASD?

According to the latest longitudinal study, ASDs affect 1 in 68 individuals nationally and 1 in 64 in Arizona (CDC, 2014). ASDs are 5 times more prevalent in boys than in girls and occur in all races, ethnicities, and social classes.
To read the results of Autism Surveillance findings, click here:

Why is Autism increasing?

The number of children identified with an ASD has been growing steadily in the last few decades. Some of this increase can be explained by:

  • more comprehensive research methods (e.g., casting a wider net in health and educational settings and seeking out those who do not have a diagnosis)
  • accounting for the entire spectrum (e.g., Asperger’s Disorder and PDD-NOS were included in more recent studies)
  • improved parent and professional awareness
  • advanced parental age

Researchers from the fields of genetics and environmental toxicology continue to investigate other possible reasons why the rate of autism has increased so significantly.
To find out more, click here:

What is the outlook for people with ASD?

Although there is no cure, some adults with ASD that received intensive intervention are able to live and work independently with little support needed. But depending on the severity of the diagnoses, people with ASD may continue to need social and emotional support throughout their lives and are not able to be independent. There are hundreds of support groups, day-treatment facilities and recreational groups available to families with ASD who are not able to provide 24 hour care.
Need Support? Click on these links for more information:
Developmental homes: https://www.azdes.gov/main.aspx?menu=76&id=1008
Support resources: https://www.azdes.gov/main.aspx?menu=8&id=1824

What are associated features of ASD?

Many of the individuals we serve with an ASD also have one or more of the following features: Seizure disorder/Epilepsy, genetic disorders, gastrointestinal related disorders, sleep disorders, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Pica, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), and behavioral difficulties (ODD, OCD).
See our Diagnoses page for information on any of these associated features.

What changed with the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)?

The criteria for diagnosing Autism changed with the latest update to the DSM in May 2014. According to Autism Speaks, the five major changes are:

  1. Removal of the subcategories of the Autism Spectrum: Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. These subcategories were merged into the single term Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  2. The three diagnostic domains merged into two domains: social communication impairment and restricted interests/repetitive behaviors. In the restricted interest category, hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment was added.
  3. Symptoms of ASD can be current or reported in the past.
  4. Each person diagnosed will be evaluated for genetic causes, level of language and intellectual ability and presence of other medical condictions such as epilepsy, anxiety and/or gastrointestinal problems.
  5. A new diagnosis called Social Communication Disorder (SCD) was added to the manual that may account for those previously diagnosed with PDD-NOS.

For more information on the DSM and its changes, visit:

What do therapists mean when they talk about “sensory processing”?


There 7 major sensory systems in the body that give us an idea of what is happening around us.  They are as follows:

  • Tactile: what your skin feels
    • How things such as clothing, hair and temperature feel on your skin
  • Vestibular: movement
    • How it feels to be balanced (sitting on a swing without falling off)
  • Proprioceptive: what your joints feel
    • How it feels to give someone a hug (position of body, orientation)
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Visual: what you see
  • Auditory: what you hear

For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, see our Diagnosis page.
To learn more about sensory systems, click here: