Autism Spectrum Disorder 101

What it Autism Spectrum Disorder? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors (

Did you know ...

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S.
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism


National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation

  • Total 2012 NIH budget: $30.86 billion
  • Of this budget, only $169 million goes directly to autism research. This represents 0.55% of total NIH funding.

(Statistics taken from


cognitive-signsCurrently, there is no medical test to identify Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly referred to as either Autistic Disorder, Aspergers Disorder, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Psychologists and other specially trained clinicians evaluate for autism utilizing observational assessment, parent-report, and other instruments to assess for social and communication delays, as well as repetitive or restricted behavior patterns associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Using current assessment instruments, clinicians can make accurate diagnoses of Autism Spectrum in children ranging from toddlers to teens. As with any developmental disorders, early intervention is the most effective. Ideally, the condition should be assessed as early as possible.

Often parents are the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors, such as failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways. As children age, their symptoms may change. We encourage parents to trust their instincts and find a psychologist, pediatrician or mental health provider who specializes in child development to conduct the assessment or make the appropriate referral. Every child from birth to at least 36 months of age, should be screened for developmental milestones during routine pediatric visits. Sometimes an Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed later in life, often in relation to learning, social or emotional difficulties.


Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder may receive treatment from a multi-disciplinary team of medical providers including a primary care physician, psychologist, pediatrician, speech and language pathologist and occupational, and physical therapists. Not all professionals are trained to work with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, so we recommend seeking out a specialist. For younger children, specific treatments shown to be effective for the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder include forms of Applied Behavior Analysis, Pivot Response Training, The Early Start Denver Model, and FloorTime. These treatments are often difficult to find but outcome research shows they produce strong results.

Treatment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often involves parent education and behavior
parent training, which serve to inform and empower parents with teaching tools and effective behavior modification skills. Other approaches, such as Behavioral Therapy or Cognitive-Behavior Therapy target other problems that are common among individuals with Autism Spectrum disorder such as anxiety, depression, behavior problems, poor independent living skills and problems with socialization or developing positive peer relationships.

Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Lots of misinformation circulates about Autism Spectrum Disorder.Stop

  1. Myth 1: Autism is caused by vaccines: This myth can be found all over the internet. It has been studied and restudied. The myth began by misinformation created in a fraudulent study. The fact is, many factors correlate with increased rates of autism, but vaccines are not one of them.
  2. Myth 2: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are cognitively impaired. This myth leads to individuals feeling hurt and rejected, and unduly held to lower standards. The truth is that among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are some with cognitive impairments and others who are highly intelligent and have incredible cognitive and creative gifts. Many of the most talented and beautifully unique individuals I've worked with have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  3. Myth 3: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are not social and do not experience emotions or empathy. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Individuals on "the spectrum" experience the same range of emotions and have social needs, similar to their neurotypical peers. They may express emotions and needs differently, but to assume they do not have emotions or social desires can lead to feelings of rejection and lack of opportunity for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Autism Spectrum Disorder is typically considered a life-course disorder, meaning most individuals retain some symptoms of Autism throughout their life. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder range in their severity from mild to severe symptoms. They may have unique social and communication needs, but may also struggle with the same age-appropriate problems as those without the condition, such as feeling self-conscious during teenage years. They may show talents and unique abilities in their areas of interest. They may long for social connectedness and may have their own life goals. There are effective treatments to help individuals function optimally in their environments, whether at home, school, work or other public settings. For anyone on “the spectrum,” accurate diagnoses and effective treatments can help reduce symptoms, meet life goals, provide support for caregivers, increase independent functioning and improve the individuals overall quality of life.


Written by Adam Benton, PhD,  Licensed Psychologist, Arkansas Families First, LLC



Autism Speaks

Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center
Center for Effective Parenting
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:
Little Rock Autism Families:
Arkansas Autism Research and Outreach Center
Foundation for Children With Behavioral Challenges:
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Health Information:
Families and Advocates Partnership for Education:
National Information Center for Children and Youth With Disabilities:
Children and Adults with ADHD:
Help for ADHD:
The ADHD Warehouse:
Arkansas Disability Rights Center:
Arkansas Disability Coalition:
Council of Educators for Students with Disabilities
Council for Disability Rights
Children with Disabilities
Disability Rights Education Defense Fund