ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects various behaviors, such as a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. As a result, children with ASD may have social challenges. Parents or caregivers may notice signs and symptoms before the child is 2, but the most obvious symptoms begin to appear between 2 and 3 years of age.
Children with ASD are as unique as any other child. They each have their own strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. Less than 40 percent of individuals diagnosed with ASD also have an intellectual disability. Some children with ASD are very talkative; about 25 percent are nonverbal, but can learn to communicate in other ways, like sign language.
“On the spectrum” means a vast range of abilities and limitations, including how someone experiences and interacts with the world around them. Many children with ASD will have difficulties adjusting to changes in routine or in familiar surroundings. Some children with ASD will be able to find satisfying jobs and live on their own; others may be unable to live independently. Whatever the individual needs, it is our goal to help every child with ASD reach his or her full potential
Diet is neither a cause of nor cure for ASD. However, children with ASD may prefer snacks and calorie-rich foods and may reject fruits and vegetables. This can adversely affect their nutrition, increasing risk of obesity and other serious conditions. While many alternative treatments for ASD focus on dietary changes, there is no research to support a specific regimen for children, other than healthy eating.
ASD appears to result from a combination of genetic and
environmental influences. Human DNA varies greatly from
one person to another, so there are millions of possible tiny
differences in genetic codes. No particular variation or genetic
sequence and no single gene have been identified as being
associated with or causing more than a tiny fraction of ASD cases.
There may be a correlation between some environmental
factors and ASD, such as:
Research studies show there is between a 10 and 20 percent
chance that a sibling of a child with ASD will also be diagnosed
with ASD. There is also a 10 to 20 percent chance the sibling of
a child with ASD will be born with what is called broad autism
phenotype (BAP). This is not ASD, though it does involve some
communication challenges. Studies also suggest that waiting
at least 12 months between pregnancies may decrease the
chances that the second child will have ASD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), the rate appears to have dramatically increased over
time, from 1 in 2,000 children in the 1980s to 1 in 68 children in
2016. Experts believe the increase is due to three main factors:
If you suspect your child has ASD, you should talk to your
pediatrician about your concerns immediately. It may help to
videotape behaviors that your pediatrician might not be able
to observe in the office.
You can also contact specific professionals who provide
evaluations for ASD, such as pediatricians, psychologists,
and neurologists, or specialty clinics like Marcus Autism Center.
However, there are often waiting lists for comprehensive
diagnostic evaluations—those that include direct testing
with your child—and you may need a provisional diagnosis
from your pediatrician before your child can begin intervention
services. Visit marcus.org/appointment to learn more about
In Georgia, early intervention services are provided through
Babies Can’t Wait (BCW). Learn more about BCW by visiting
health.state.ga.us, or calling 404-657-2726 or 888-651-8224.
Researching new treatments and improving understanding
of the earliest signs of autism is critical. Whether your family
has ASD risk factors or not, you can help improve the science
behind the treatment and diagnosis of ASD.
Visit marcus.org/research to learn more about our
research program and our open studies.
Sean Ahlberg’s aggressive behavior was keeping him from enjoying time with his family and getting out into the world. Since beginning his treatment at Marcus, Sean's behavior has changed and he has even become verbal with help from the Language and Learning Clinic.
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