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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism is a complex developmental disability that often appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder. Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD affects over 70,000 individuals in Ontario or an incidence of 1 in 165.

Autism is treatable. Early intervention is critical. Parents should ask their child’s family doctor for a referral to a developmental paediatrician for assessment if there are concerns.

Autism affects the typical development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism often have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social inter-actions, and leisure or play activities. They find it hard to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviour may be present. Persons with autism may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Warning Signs of Autism in Early Childhood

Communication Red Flags              Behavioural Red Flags              Social Red Flags 
  • No babbling by 11 months
  • No simple gestures by 12 mos. (e.g., waving bye-bye)
  • No single words by 16 mos.
  • No 2-word phrases by 24 mos. (noun + verb; e.g., “baby sleeping”)
  • No response when name is called, causing concern about hearing
  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age
  • Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands
  • Oversensitive to certain textures, sounds or lights
  • Lack of interest in toys, or plays with them in an unusual way (e.g., lining up, spinning, opening/closing parts rather than using the toy as a whole)
  • Compulsions or rituals (has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence; is prone to tantrums if rituals are interrupted)
  • Preoccupation with unusual interests, such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels
  • Unusual fears
  • Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people
  • Does not play peek-a-boo
  • Doesn’t point to show things he/she is interested in
  • Rarely smiles socially
  • More interested in looking at objects than at people’s faces
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Doesn’t make attempts to get parent’s attention; doesn’t follow/look when someone is pointing at something
  • Seems to be “in his/her own world”
  • Doesn’t respond to parent’s attempts to play, even if relaxed
  • Avoids or ignores other children when they approach

Autism is a spectrum disorder. The symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide range from mild to severe. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviours; children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviours in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.

There is no “typical” person with autism. Parents may hear different terms used to describe children such as autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, high-functioning or low-functioning autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Whatever the diagnosis, children can learn and function productively and show gains from appropriate education and treatment.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the general category of disorders, which are characterized by severe andpervasive impairment in several areas of development. Children who fall under the ASD category show similarities in lack of communication and social skills, but are different in terms of severity, number of symptoms or age of onset. Some differences are listed below.

Types of Autism

Autistic Disorder - Impairments in social interaction, communication, and imaginative play prior to age 3 years. Stereotyped behaviours, interests and activities

Asperger’s Disorder - Impairments in social skills and restricted interests and activities, with no significant delay in language, and in the range of average to above average intelligence

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified - A diagnosis of PDD may be made when a child does not meet the criteria for a specific diagnosis, but there is a severe impairment in specified behaviours.

Rett’s Disorder - A progressive disorder which, to date, has occurred only in girls. They have a period of normal development and then lose previously acquired skills, as well as normal use of the hands and repetitive hand movements beginning at the age of 1-4 years

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder - Characterized by normal development for at least the first 2 years, followed by significant loss of previously acquired skills.

Links or Useful Resources for AUTISM:
Autism Ontario - search to find your local chapter
Autism Web -
Autism Society of America -
Child & Parent Resource Institute (CPRI) – 1-519-858-2774 or
Developmental Services Access Centre (DSAC) - or call 519-741-1121
Geneva Centre for Autism -
KidsAbility Centre For Child Development - - 519-886-8886
Erinoak -
Interesting Article: “The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know
Autism Spectrum Connection -