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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some common questions that caregivers and providers often have about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Click a question below to view the answer.

The most recent surveillance data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2014) shows that 1 in 68 children in the United States meets criteria for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. ASD is more common among boys (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 189). Please refer to the CDC's 2014 Community Report on Autism for more information regarding prevalence rates.

Currently, there are no medical or genetic tests to diagnose ASD. A diagnosis of ASD is made based on a child's developmental history, social communication difficulties, and pattern of atypical behavior. Information used to determine whether a child meets criteria for an ASD diagnosis can be gathered through a clinical interview, caregiver questionnaires, screening measures, behavioral observation, and diagnostic testing with the child. ASD can be diagnosed by a child's physician or specialty providers, such as developmental behavioral pediatricians and psychologists. ASD may also be identified by school teams, when diagnostic testing is available at school.

Validated assessment tools are available for making a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder; however, these tools require specialized training to administer and interpret. Diagnostic evaluations may be performed by psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental behavioral pediatricians, neurologists, or other developmental specialists. The following validated assessment tools may be used to make a diagnosis:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2)
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS-2)
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R)

As of 2013, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now used as the official diagnostic term for autism, which also covers previous terms such as Asperger's disorder and pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Many people use the terms autism spectrum disorder and autism interchangeably.

Early intervention services are recommended for children with ASD and/or developmental delays, starting as soon as a developmental delay is identified. Services may include behavioral therapy, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Older children and adults can also benefit from intervention in these areas. Although there are no medications to cure ASD, there are some medications that can address potential co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, seizures, attention problems, and high activity levels. Because children respond to medications differently, it is important to discuss medication options with a health care professional who has experience working with children with ASD. For more information regarding evidence-based treatment options, please refer to the CDC's ASD Treatment page and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder page.

Children with ASD have greatly varying levels of intellectual ability, ranging from severe intellectual disability to average or above average cognitive skills (estimated to be almost half of children identified with ASD; CDC, 2014). Communication difficulties, sensory differences that might impede attention, and learning differences might impact the academic performance of children with ASD. However, there are many strategies that can enhance learning among individuals with ASD, such as highly structured instruction, modeling of skills, use of visuals, opportunities for repeated practice, coaching, and use of positive behavior supports. For more information regarding evidence-based intervention and learning supports, please visit the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder website.

If you are concerned about your child's development, discuss your concerns with your child's pediatrician and contact your local Children's Developmental Services Agency (CDSA) to have your child evaluated. It is important that a child be evaluated as early as possible if there are concerns regarding his/her development, as there are improved outcomes for children who are identified and begin intervention at young ages. Please visit our Tips for Caregivers page for more information on how to begin the evaluation process and review the CDC's Concerned about Development? How to Help Your Child worksheet.

For information about who to contact to access evaluation or intervention services for your child, please click on the appropriate link below: