What is Autism?

What is Autism?


When using any source of information about autism, it is vital to enquire what that source considers autism to be. Many ideas about autism are outdated and have been disproven. Many sources demonstrate a condescending attitude that rules out any possibility of learning from and with the real experts: people who have autism. The following definition of autism has been adopted by the Autism National Committee:

Autism is the common term for a range of disabilities medically classified as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). Autism/PDD is characterized by qualitative differences in the development of cognitive, language, social or motor skills, and these are usually apparent before age three. Research evidence suggests that autism may result from an underlying difficulty with expressive movement and its regulation, severely challenging the individual to keep body movements, including sensory responses, in control. These sensorimotor problems can make it difficult to respond consistently and productively to other individuals and to the environment.

Autism/PDD occurs in approximately one out of every 166 births and is four times more common among males than females. It is found throughout the world in families of all racial, ethnic and social backgrounds. Please refer to “Three Reasons Not To Believe in an Autism Epidemic,” by Gernsbacher et al. for a broader perspective on the current figures on the prevalence of autism in the population. While autism was once erroneously believed to arise from stresses in a child’s psychological environment, modern medical evidence suggests that irregularities in the development of the brain and central nervous system give rise to the syndrome of autism. Causes of this development are diverse and may include chemical exposure, viral and genetic factors.

Autism/PDD is not an illness or a “thing” a person “has.” It is a collection of responses which must be viewed in context, and observation is always more productive than labeling. Across the wide spectrum of the autism/PDD syndrome, individual variations on several key features can be recognized. Reciprocal social interactions, both verbal and nonverbal, are unusual in quality and generally difficult to synchronize and to carry out. Impairments of the central nervous system typically result in over-reactions, under-reactions, or inconsistent responses to various sensory stimuli. Because sensory input is difficult to organize and control, the individual’s activities and interests may appear restricted in their nature and repertoire, frequently involving significant repetition and a need for predictability rather than change. It is important to view the behavior of people with autism/PDD as meaningful adaptations and to take a positive, respectful approach to them, forgoing the common tendency to judge their competence and capacity on the basis of their sensorimotor challenges.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? When people talk about Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  they are both generally referring to a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are diagnosed by varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism Spectrum Disorder can sometimes encompasses intellectual disability, motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Previously, autism was recognized as distinct sub-types, which included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. Today these types are now merged into one one diagnosis, which is Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes Autism Spectrum Disorders as  “developmental disabilities that cause substantial impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with ASDs also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, and reacting to different sensations. The thinking and learning abilities of people with ASDs can vary—from gifted to severely challenged. An ASD begins before the age of 3 and lasts throughout a person’s life.”

The most obvious signs and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between the ages of 2 and 3 years of old. Jay Nolan Community Services (JNCS) continues to provide support services for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities. Early intervention and proven behavioral therapies with an individual with autism can greatly improve developmental success. Families, friends and volunteers play an important role in increasing autism awareness and helping people with autism.

How Common is Autism?

1 in
are now affected by autism
(in the US)
Individuals with Autism
a year on average
Autism costs a family
Boys are
more likely to have autism than girls

How Common is Autism?


Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum, and 1 in 42 of this stat are boys – an increase of almost 10 times the prevalence in the past 40 years.

Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Autism spectrum disorder affects over 3.5 million individuals in the U.S. and many more millions of people worldwide.

U.S. government autism spectrum disorder statistics suggest that autism rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. Currently there is no official or established explanation for these continuing increases, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered factors.

What Causes Autism?

What causes Autism?


What causes Autism? It was really not that long ago that the answer to this question would have been “we don’t know”. For the first time, modern research is now delivering answers on autism.

Autism is complex, and through much research we learned there is no one cause of autism. Over the past several years, scientists and researchers have identified a number of rare gene mutations, or changes rather that are associated with autism. However, genetic changes happen on a consistent basis during the course of any persons life, and only a small number of these genetic changes have a sufficient amount of data to definitively say that this is the cause of autism alone. Although a majority of autism cases appear to be caused by a combination of autism “risk genes” and environmental factors influencing early brain development.

The clearest evidence we have available to date of these autism risk factors actually occurs in events before and during birth. Some of these signs have indicated  advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal (pregnancy) illnesses and certain difficulties during child birth, particularly those cases involving any kind of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors are not implying the cause autism alone, but rather a combination of genetic predisposition and those events before and during birth have suggested a modestly increased risk.

According to Autism Speaks “A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.” Although there is currently no “cure” for autism, keeping in mind the factors that have been examined and studied is the first step for creating and improving the lives for many people. Medical professionals and researchers from around the globe are continuously looking at other various culprit factors, such as the role of the immune system in autism.


Resources for Autism


Please browse the following links and articles for helpful information.

Red Flags And Rules of Thumb for Evaluating Treatments

An AUTCOM Memorandum

1. Be suspicious of any treatment which makes grandiose claims, using words like “miraculous,” “amazing breakthrough,” “recovery,” or “cure.” Legitimate medical and educational professionals show respect for the uniqueness of each individual with autism and the feelings of that individual’s family, and therefore never indulge in overstatements and boasts about what they will be able to accomplish. When they are particularly successful in helping a person, they do not solicit testimonials from the person’s family or encourage parents to make grandiose promises and claims to others.

2. Be suspicious of professionals who publicize and promote their method or program as if it were a packageable commodity. Since autism is not a “thing” a person “has,” but an attempt to capture in a single label a wide range of behavioral adaptations to a wide range of sensory and movement regulatory differences, there can be no such thing as a general treatment “for autism.” Likewise, beware of parent support groups dedicated to the promotion of a particular “miraculous” method. Enthusiastic testimonials from people who claim they have been helped by a product or treatment are no substitute for the evidence gathered through careful, unbiased investigation, and for considering the unique developmental profile of your individual child. Run for the hills if you are ever made to feel guilty or inadequate for failing to buy into a treatment or for questioning the eager rhetoric surrounding it.

3. Remember that many treatments are composed of an eclectic mix of active and inactive ingredients. The more clarity we can achieve about what really helps, the less time, energy, and money we will waste on inactive, incidental, and occasionally harmful treatment components. It is helpful to note the common features in many effective interventions, across many different disciplines:
a. using environmental accommodations which slow down interactions, setting a consistent pattern paced to the person’s unique rhythms;
b. eliminating unnecessary stimuli and distractions which may overwhelm and confuse;
c. giving the person, on a daily basis, as much uninterrupted time and attention as possible;
d. following the person’s lead by building on his or her own enthusiasms and interests;
e. utilizing typical home and community settings, and the friendship and support of typically- developing peers;
f. and, last but not least, sharing with the person a belief in their competence and delight in their companionship.

Area Board 10

Area Boards were created by state law in 1969 to ensure that people with developmental disabilities and their families get the services they need. The mission of the Area Board is to protect and advocate for the civil, legal, and service rights of persons with developmental disabilities, and to ensure that the support and services they receive are of the highest possible quality.

Website: Area Board 10

Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE)

Through advocacy and education, APSE advances employment and self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities.

Website: Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE)


AUTCOM is the only autism advocacy organization dedicated to “Social Justice for All Citizens with Autism” through a shared vision and a commitment to positive approaches.

Website: Autism National Committee

Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks has grown into the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Website: Autism Speaks

Department of Developmental Services

The Department of Developmental Services believes the California developmental services community is best served by the open exchange of information and opinions. DDS is also committed to providing mechanisms for the resolution of problems and complaints when they arise. A number of formal processes have been established for handling appeals and complaints.

Website: Department of Developmental Services

Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center

The Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center (ELARC) is a private, non-profit organization under contract with the California Department of Developmental Servcies (DDS), which coordinates and provides community based services to people with developmental disabilities in the state of California. It is one of 21 Regional Centers in the state.

Website: Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center

Lanterman Regional Center

Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center is a private, non-profit corporation that operates under contract with California’s Department of Developmental Services. The Center serves over 8,800 children and adults with developmental disabilities, who have or are at risk for a developmental delay or disability, and who are at high-risk of parenting an infant with a disability.

Website: Lanterman Regional Center

North Los Angeles Regional Center

North Los Angeles County Regional Center (NLACRC) is one of 21 private, non-profit organizations under contract with the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to coordinate and provide community-based services to persons with developmental disabilities (consumers).

Website: North Los Angeles Regional Center


TASH is an international leader in disability advocacy. Founded in 1975, TASH advocates for human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities and support needs – those most vulnerable to segregation, abuse, neglect and institutionalization. TASH works to advance inclusive communities through advocacy, research, professional development, policy, and information and resources for parents, families and self-advocates. The inclusive practices TASH validates through research have been shown to improve outcomes for all people.

Website: TASH.org

Westside Regional Center

It is Westside Regional Center’s mission to empower people with developmental disabilities and their families to choose and access community services that facilitate a quality of life comparable to persons without disabilities.

Website: Westside Regional Center