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Learning and Information for Families and Educators

A comprehensive, research based resource for families and educators of individuals with disabilities.

What is Autism?


Children with autism have problems or deficits in three areas: communication skills, social skills and restrictive and/or repetitive behaviors.  These deficits can be depicted in terms of three interconnected circles.

Autism falls within the intersection of these three circles. When a child has significant problems in all three areas, the appropriate diagnosis is autism.
You may have heard other terms that are not referred to as autism but are somehow related to autism. Children who show deficits in some of the three areas or mild deficits in each area may not be diagnosed with autism, but may be given a diagnosis that is related to autism. These autistic-like conditions are described by terms such as Asperger's Disorder (also called Asperger's Syndrome), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Fragile X Syndrome, Retts Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD.NOS). Children with these diagnoses usually have some of the characteristics of autism, but not all of the symptoms.

Pervasive developmental disorder and PDD.NOS can be difficult terms to understand. Pervasive developmental disorder is the umbrella term under which diagnoses of autism and related disorders fall. All of the above diagnoses are considered to be pervasive developmental disorders.

Recently, the term autism spectrum disorders or "ASD" has been used to refer to these disorders and is becoming the more accepted term. When we use the term autism on this website, we are generally referring to the range of autism spectrum disorders.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

There are no blood tests, x-rays, genetic tests or brain scans at the present time to diagnose autism. Diagnosis is based on the child's behavior—the symptoms or characteristics that the child displays.

Children with autism have problems or deficits in three areas: communication skills, social skills and restrictive or repetitive behaviors. A diagnosis is made by determining if a child exhibits symptoms of autism in each of the three areas noted above.

Why is  Diagnosis Helpful or Necessary?

Causes of Autism

Autism is a Specturm Disorder

Social Skills Deficits

Communication Problems

Repetitive or Unusual Behaviors

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