What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD affects every race, gender, creed, and socio-economic background, and has no outward visual signs. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.

  • Autism is a spectrum disorder in that a person can be impacted mildly or severely and anywhere in between. People with autism are unique individuals because they can have high skills in one area and high needs in another.
  • Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.
  • In March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys. The spotlight shining on autism as a result has opened opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve families facing a lifetime of supports for their children. In June 2014, researchers estimated the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism is as great as $2.4 million. The Autism Society estimates that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism. (This figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, related therapeutic services and caregiver costs.)