Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in at least 1 in 44 individuals. The diagnosis is four times more prevalent in males than females. Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder – meaning the symptoms can occur in any combination and with varying degrees of severity.

The characteristic behaviors of ASD may or may not be apparent in infancy, but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years). ASD affects individuals in every country and region of the world and knows no racial, ethnic, nor economic boundaries.


Autism is a neurobiological disorder. A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. While individuals with ASD have different skills and abilities they typically experience challenges in four main areas:

   • Deficits in social communication and social interaction
   • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, or activities
   • Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacity)
   • Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning


While no one knows what causes autism, there are some general facts that are known about autism.

  • • Autism is considered a spectrum disorder which means that some individuals will display significant learning and behavioral challenges, while others may only be mildly affected by the disability.
  • • Autism is diagnosed based on a child’s behavior and skills. There is no genetic marker for autism.
  • • Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the US.
  • • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders is 1 in every 59 children.
  • • In 2020, it is estimated that 36,000 adults in Pennsylvania will be on the autism spectrum.
  • • Autism is found throughout the world, in families of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • • About 1/3 of all individuals with autism develop seizures in adolescence.
  • • Individuals with autism live a normal life span.
  • • Autism tends to run in families. If a family has a child with autism, they have a 3-5% chance of having another child with autism.
  • • Individuals with autism can improve significantly with intensive well designed educational, behavioral, speech, and sensory based programs.


People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and last throughout a person’s life.

Children or adults with ASD might:

  •    • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
  •    • not look at objects when another person points at them
  •    • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  •    • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  •    • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  •    • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
  •    • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  •    • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  •    • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  •    • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  •    • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
  •    • repeat actions over and over again
  •    • have trouble adapting when a routine change
  •    • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  •    • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)

Next Step Guide – CLICK TO READ


Autism Society promotes the active and informed involvement of family members and the individuals with autism in the planning of individualized, appropriate services and supports. The Next Step Guide was developed to help inform families of what is available for services and support. Autism Society NWPA will make every effort to keep the Next Step Guide updated. The guide (online) will be updated as information/services change.