Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder or "ASD"?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (AAC), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. As this is a spectrum, there is a varying degree of severity with this disorder. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others need less support, and other live independently. It is important to remember that while "ASD," is label; it does not look the same and varies from person to person.

What are some indicators that my child may have ASD?

  • Demonstrates poor social visual orientation and attention (Adrien et. al., Baranek, 1999.)
  • Fails to point to express interest (pointing typically develops by 8-10 mos., may be delayed or never develop in ASD) (Baron-Cohen et al., 1992; Lord, 1995, Osterling & Dawson, 1994, Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Use hand leading or another's body as a tool (sees hand as a tool, often replacing pointing) (Lord, 1995).
  • Mouth objects excessively (Baranek, 1999).
  • Stops talking after using three or more meaningful words (Lord, 2000).
  • Uses fewer than five meaningful words on a daily basis at age 2; lack of vocalizations with consonants (Lord, 2000; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Fails to look at others; abnormal eye contact or inappropriate eye gaze (Adrien et. al., 1992; Osterling & Dawson, 1994; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Fails to show interest in other children, ignores people, prefers to be alone (Adrien et. al., 1992).
  • Fails to orient to name, shows delayed response to name, or lacks attention of voice (especially neutral voice) (Baranek, 1999; Lord, 1995; Osterling & Dawson, 1994; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Lacks symbolic play (e.g. pretending to make a meal, talk on the telephone); lacks conversational play with a variety of toys (Baron-Cohen et al., 1992; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Exhibits unusual hand and finger mannerisms, repetitive movements or posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers (Lord, 1995; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Displays aversion to social touch (Baranek, 1999).
  • Lacks coordination of gaze, facial expression, gesture, and sound (Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Lack expressive postures and gestures or exhibits unusual postures (Adrien et al, 1992).
  • Fails to share enjoyment or interest (Lord, 1995; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Fails to show objects, fails to show an interest in or joint attention to games for pleasure or connection with another; fails to spontaneously direct another's attention (Baron-Cohen et. al, 1992; Lord, 1995; Osterling & Dawson, 1994; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Fails to show warm, joyful expressions with gaze; lacks emotional facial expression and social smile (Adrien et al., 1992; Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Makes repetitive movements with objects (Wetherby & Woods, 2003).
  • Fails to respond to contextual cues (Wetherby & Woods, 2003).

What causes Autism?

There is no known cause for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental influences.

How does my child get a diagnosis of ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder must be diagnosed by a licensed physician or psychologist. While we do not currently have a practitioner in our office that is licensed to diagnose ASD, we have connections with a variety of offices in the surrounding area in which we can refer you to. If you have concerns regarding whether your child has ASD, please talk with your therapist or primary care physician. In our office, we use the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised (MCHAT-R) to screen for Autism Spectrum Disorder. If we identify some concerns, we will talk with you and refer you to a psychologist for a full evaluation.

How can Speech Therapy assist my child with Autism?

Speech therapy can assist your child in improving his or her verbal, nonverbal, and social communication. Communication abilities and speech-related challenges can vary from person to person.  Common objectives may include improving spoken language (requesting preferred objects, asking for assistance, etc.), learning nonverbal skills such as signs or gestures, learning appropriate social skills (communicative turn-taking, labeling emotions, etc.), or learning to communicate using an alternative method (such as picture exchange or a communication device). The speech-language pathologist will likely use a variety of treatment techniques to address your child's deficits. Treatment techniques may include: Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), Floortime, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), or Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP). For more information on speech therapy services and treatment approaches, please see our speech therapy tab here.

How can Occupational Therapy assist my child with Autism?

Occupational therapists can be helpful in teaching your child appropriate play skills, learning strategies, self-care, and assisting to manage sensory issues. Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies such as physical activities, play activities, developmental activities (such as brushing teeth), and adaptive strategies (such as coping with transitions) to help the child better respond to his or her environment. For more information on occupational therapy services and treatment approaches, please see our occupational therapy tab here.

How can Physical Therapy assist my child with Autism?

Children with ASD are often delayed in acquiring motor (movement) skills and may have difficulty with motor coordination, postural control, and imitating the movements of other people. If you suspect your child may have some physical deficits, talk with your primary care physician to obtain a referral for physical therapy. For more information of our physical therapy services and treatment approaches, please see our physical therapy section here.


  • Autism Speaks : 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. Autism Speaks offers online toolkits for families and adults on topics such as: a new autism diagnosis, therapies, medication, medical procedures, feeding, sleep, ABA, toileting training, puberty, transitioning to adulthood, IEPs, etc. All toolkits are available here:¬†
  • AAP Autism Initiatives : The AAP Council on Children With Disabilities (COCWD) is dedicated to optimal care and development of children with disabilities and to the support of their families within a medical home. The COCWD Autism Subcommittee is the main point of contact for the AAP on issues related to autism.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs To Know: This award-winning book is an invaluable resource for parents of children who have been diagnosed with ASD. Prepared under the editorial direction of 2 pediatricians who are autism experts, this book helps parents understand how ASD is defined, diagnosed, and provides information on the types of behavioral and developmental therapies. It also helps parents prepare for a smooth transition from adolescence through the teen years and into adulthood.
  • Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center : National autism resource and information center is a central point of resources and information for individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities, their families, and other key stakeholders. (The Arc)