ARED Fact Sheet 0
What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong neurological disability that affects a person's ability to communicate,
understand language, play and socially interact with others. The first signs of autism usually appear
as developmental delays before age three.
Autism is classified as a developmental disability because it interferes with the typical rate and
patterns of childhood development.
There are diagnoses closely related to autism such as PDD-NOS (pervasive development disorder
not otherwise specified), Asperger's syndrome, and Rett's syndrome that are included in the category
of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Every person with autism is different. However, there are some common characteristics of
individuals with autism that may occur.
Remember that although these are some common characteristics no two persons with autism
experience the world or behave in the same way.
+ Difficulty in using and understanding language. Some children develop typical speech patterns
until age two.
+ Poorly developed social skills and unusual play with toys.
+ Over or under sensitivity to sound, sight, taste, touch, or smell.
+ Repetitive behaviors such as spinning objects or rocking.
+ Certain behaviors exhibited to stimulate the senses, such as switching a light on and off
repeatedly, or humming loudly.
+ Difficulty with changes to surroundings or routines.
+ Very high levels of activity for long periods of time.
+ Uneven skill development. Some skills are normal or superior for their age while others show
+ Challenging behaviors such as aggression, self injury or severe withdrawal.
Nobody knows what causes autism. Some scientists believe there is a biological cause that affects the
working of the brain, but this has not been proven. It is possible there are many factors that could interact
with one another which could cause different characteristics in each individual with autism.
Parents do not cause autism. No factors in a child's experiences or in parenting styles are responsible
According to the Autism Society of America, Autism Spectrum Disorder occurs in about 1 of
every 150 births, and four times more often in boys than girls. Families of all racial, ethnic and social
backgrounds anywhere in the world are affected.
Autism occurs by itself, with mental retardation, or with other health problems, such as epilepsy,
viral infections, or changes in a person's growth rate or metabolism.
Less than 5 percent of persons with autism exhibit the genius-like abilities like Dustin Hoffman
p portrayed in "Rain Man."
Treatment and educational needs for people with autism and
related disabilities should include:
1) Early and accurate diagnosis increases the child's opportunity
for positive development and success.
2) Professional services for persons with autism may include
speech and occupational therapy and require a cooperative
effort between professionals and families.
3) Generally, persons with autism seem to make the best progress
when they are in as normal a setting as possible and provided
with individualized support and therapy to meet their needs.
4) By implementing treatment methods in all areas of life
progress in persons with autism can be optimized.
Autism can be complex, severe and frightening. But, it is
not hopeless. With the help of good intervention and services,
individuals with autism can make excellent progress and achieve a
higher quality of life.
Cohen, D. J., & Donnellan, A. M. (1987). Handbook of autism and pervasive
developmental disorders. Silver Spring, MD: V. H. Winston & Sons
Hart, C. A. (1993). A parent's guide to autism: Answers to the most common
questions. New York: Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster Co.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Available from Plenum
Publishing Corporation, 233 Spring Street New York, NY 10013.
Powers, M.D. (Ed.) (1989) Children with autism: A parent's guide. Rockville,
MD: Woodbine House.
Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 650
Bethesda, MD 20814
Autism Society of Florida
2858 Remington Green
Tallahassee, FL 32308
For More Information Contact:
Center for Autism and Related Disabilities Sites:
Florida State University
625-B North Adams St.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(800) 769-7926 or (850) 644-4367
University of South Florida
13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33612-3899
(800) 333-4530 or (813) 974-2532
Fax: (813) 974-6115
University of Florida at Gainesville
P. O. Box 100234
Gainesville, FL 32610-0234
(800) 754-5891 or (352) 846-2761
Fax: (352) 846-0941
University of Florida at Jacksonville
6271 St. Augustine Rd, Suite 1
Jacksonville, FL 32217
Phone: (904) 633-0760
Fax: (904) 633-0751
University of Central Florida
12001 Science Drive, Suite 145
Orlando, FL 32826
(888) 558-1908 or (407) 737-2566
Fax (407) 737-2571
University of Miami
Dept. of Psychology
5665 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
PO Box 248768
Coral Gables, FL 33124-0725
800/9-AUTISM or 305/284-6563
Florida Atlantic University
Dept. of ESE
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
(888) 632-6395 or (561) 297-2023
Fax (561) 297-2063
Factsheet Center for Autism & Related Disabilities