Autism Spectrum Disorder Overview - Minnesota Department of Health

Autism Spectrum Disorder Overview

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Boy in a green field picking a dandelion.Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to be an important public health concern. ASD is a developmental disorder that may cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The Minnesota Department of Health is committed to continuing to provide essential data on ASD and develop resources to help to identify children with ASD as early as possible.

What is ASD?

ASD is a developmental disorder, something that occurs in the early formation of the brain. There is usually nothing about how a person with ASD looks that sets them apart from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most people.

The word "spectrum" in ASD means that no two individuals with ASD are the same. The abilities of autistic individuals range from gifted to severely challenged. It is estimated that one third of autistic individuals are nonverbal and one third have an intellectual disability.

In the United States, 1 in 59 children were identified with ASD, according to the latest estimates. Boys are 4 times more likely to be identified with ASD than girls. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Causes of ASD

There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors. There is no known cultural or spiritual cause of ASD.

Importance of early diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder can be managed. Children do not "outgrow" ASD, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. It is important to learn the signs and act early. The earlier you get help, the better for your child.

What are the signs of autism spectrum disorder?

Social differences

  • Resists snuggling when picked up; arches back instead
  • Makes little or no eye contact
  • Shows no or less expression in response to parent’s smile
  • Less likely to bring objects to show to parents just to share his interest
  • Less likely to show appropriate facial expressions
  • Difficulty in recognizing what others might be thinking or feeling by looking at their facial expressions
  • Less likely to show concern (empathy) for others

Communication differences

  • Says no single words by 15 months or 2-word phrases by 24 months
  • Responds to sounds (like a car horn) but less likely to respond to name being called
  • May refer to self as "you" and others as "I"
  • Shows no or less interest in communicating
  • Less likely to start or continue a conversation
  • Less likely to use toys or other objects to represent people or real life in pretend play
  • May have a good rote memory, especially for numbers, songs, TV jingles, or a specific topic

Behavioral differences

  • May rock, spin, sway, twirl fingers, or flap hands
  • Likes routines, order and rituals
  • May be obsessed with a few activities, doing them repeatedly during the day
  • More likely to play with parts of toys instead of the whole toy (for example, spinning wheels of a toy truck)
  • May not cry if in pain or seem to have any fear
  • May be very sensitive or not sensitive at all to smells, sounds, lights, textures, and touch

Next Steps: Diagnosis

A medical diagnosis will more specifically determine a child's disabilities and therefore his or her need for and access to services, as well as ensure that the child's primary and other health care needs are addressed. A medical evaluation may be necessary to receive services through medical insurance or to access other funding resources such as, but not limited to: Medical Assistance (MA/TEFRA), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or county case management. A medical diagnosis is most often assigned by a psychologist or physician who specializes in children with developmental differences.

A school evaluation is required to determine eligibility for school district special education and related services. The evaluation is completed by a team of professionals and helps to identify a child's strengths, learning style, and areas of need. If a child meets criteria for school district services, the educational team will meet with parents to develop an educational plan for the child.

Either a medical diagnosis or school evaluation may lead to recommendations for a broad range of interventions; for example, referrals to medical specialists, neurologists, private rehabilitation services, county social services, financial support, family support and family guidance or therapy.

It is important to learn the signs and act early. The earlier you get help, the better for your child.

Comprehensive Care

There is no cure for autism; however, therapy and behavioral help can greatly improve your child's opportunities to do well in life.

A health care home, also known as a medical home, is an approach to health care in which primary care providers, families and patients work in partnership to improve health outcomes and quality of life. A team of health professionals work together with patients and families to provide the best care. A care coordinator will make sure that all providers, including specialists, share needed information about patients' health through patient tracking and care plans. Comprehensive care includes preventive, acute and chronic care. Care coordinators help patients manage their care.

To find more information about health care home or to locate a health care home follow this link: Find a certified health care home.

For more information

Children and Youth with Special Health Needs
Information and Resources Phone Line

Updated Tuesday, 25-Jun-2019 14:09:25 CDT