What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life.  It is considered a spectrum disorder.  This means the symptoms and characteristics of autism are evident in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe (Autism Society of Iowa).

Autism impacts the normal development of the brain.  Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties with their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, socially interacting with others and taking part in leisure or play activities.  The disorder makes it difficult to communicate with others and relate to the outside world.

Autism and the behaviors associated with it occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1997).  It is four times more common in boys than girls and "knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries" (Autism Society of America).  The occurrence of autism is not related to family income levels, lifestyle or educational levels.

The following are areas of development and learning processes that may be affected:

  • Communication may lack function, content or structure. Both deviance and delays may be present in receptive and expressive language.
  • Social participation is deviant or delayed with difficulties relating to people, objects, and events.
  • Restricted repertoire of activities and interests may be present with an inability to engage in imaginative play.
  • Development rates and sequences do not always follow normal developmental patterns. Areas of advanced skill development may be present while other skills develop at extremely slow rates.
  • Sensory processing problems are apparent as students may exhibit unusual repetitive or non-meaningful responses to auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and kinesthetic stimuli.
  • Cognition difficulties are present in generalizing information, abstract thinking, awareness, and judgment. 




Website questions or comments:  Julie Stessman