Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Brief Overview

A Brief OverviewThe latest statistics indicate 1 in 165* Canadian children (U.S. stats indicate 1 in 150 children**) are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), an increase of over 600% in the past ten years.  What was once viewed as a rare disorder is now recognized as the most common neurological disorder affecting children and these children grow up to be adults.

ASDs are a range of neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and Asperger Syndrome.  Each of these disorders affects communication, social interaction skills and behaviour.  ASDs usually manifest during the first three years of life.  Impaired social interaction is the hallmark symptom as people affected by ASD have serious problems relating to others, especially peers.  Many people affected by ASD do not have even one friend. This is very stressful to them and to their families.

People affected by ASD range from those with a severe developmental disability to those who are intellectually gifted.  In a similar way, the spectrum includes individuals who are non-verbal and can learn to use augmentative communication systems to those who are highly verbal but have difficulty using language in social situations and understanding non-verbal communication. It is very rare for someone affected by ASD to demonstrate the fantastic mathematical and artistic abilities exhibited by Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film ‘Rainman’ but many people with ASD have isolated skills in areas such as date calculation, statistics or rote memory.  

Individuals affected by ASD may exhibit repeated body movements, unusual responses to people or attachments to objects, resistance to changes in routine, and extreme sensory sensitivity.  This commonly includes severe reactions to noise and touch, may contribute to increased levels of anxiety and often means that significant levels of supervision are required.

Although a specific cause of ASD is not known, current research links ASD to biological or neurological differences in the brain that may begin during pregnancy or shortly after birth.  Research suggests there may be a genetic base to many cases of the disorder and is currently focused on several specific genes.  There is no specific medical test to make the diagnosis of autism but researchers are discovering more about indicators, such as eye tracking and joint attention that may signal differences in development at an early age.

There is no known cure for ASD but effective, structured intervention combining education, support and training can provide people affected by ASD with the skills necessary for successful integration, participation and acceptance in their communities.

For more information on ASD and Geneva Centre for Autism, please contact us at 416-322-7877 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

**  Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2007