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What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders ?Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also called ‘Autism’, is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people communicate and relate to others. The range and intensity of disability varies, but all people affected by ASD have difficulty with communication, social interaction, and restricted or repetitive interests and actions. Many have difficulty responding appropriately to their environment.

1 in 94 Canadians* (1 in 68 in the USA**) are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), suggesting that you probably know someone affected by autism.

A definitive cause of ASD is not known. Current research indicates that autism likely develops from an interaction between genes and the environment, resulting in a disruption to typical brain development early in life.

Autism is a lifelong disorder with no known cure, but specialized interventions can give people affected by ASD the tools they need to lead full and productive lives.

Autism knows no racial, ethnic, social, or economic boundaries, and the overall incidence rate is relatively consistent around the globe; however, ASD affects four times as many boys as girls.

Autism is referred to as a “spectrum disorder” because the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a variety of combinations and degrees of severity, ranging from mild to severe.

Common traits of autism include:

  • Unusual use or lack of communication skills
  • Difficulty with back-and-forth social interactions
  • Reduced appreciation of others’ interests or emotions
  • Unusual use or lack of eye contact
  • Unusual use or understanding of body language
  • Challenges in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships
  • Insistence on sameness and routines
  • Fixated interests often in unusual topics and objects
  • Difficulty with large and small transitions
  • Over- or under-responsiveness to sensory input
  • Unusual focus on specific sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. background sounds, reflections, etc.)

Autism affects more than just the individual. It affects families, educators, employers and the community at large. In order to achieve inclusive communities, we must find ways to leverage the unique strengths and abilities of each individual. This can be accomplished by ensuring that an understanding of ASD and application of effective evidence-based support strategies extends throughout the community.

Like all individuals, people with autism spectrum disorder have their own personalities, interests, talents, and potential. With their community’s support, individuals with ASD can thrive and achieve fulfilling participation in society.

* National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (2011)
** Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (2014)