Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. People with ASD may communicate and interact in ways that are different from most other people. ASD includes what the American Psychiatric Association used to call autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. ASD is called a "spectrum" disorder because people with ASD can have a range of strengths and challenges, and need more or less support for those challenges. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some children and adults with ASD need a lot of assistance in their daily lives; others need less.
Screening & Diagnosis
Causes & Prevalence
- NIMH’s Dr. Ann Wagner Designated as the National Autism Coordinator
- Our Commitment to Supporting Individuals on the Autism Spectrum and their Families
- The Affordable Care Act and Autism and Related Conditions
- CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder
Learn More about ASD
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Facts from the CDC
- Autism Spectrum Disorders from the NIMH
- Autism Information from the NINDS
- Autism Information from the NHGRI
- Autism from Medline Plus
ASD begins before the age of three. For many parents, children with ASD appear to follow a typical developmental path until the age of two or three years. However, researchers who study early signs of ASD in the first 18 months of life have found some promising results, although no widely accepted screening tool exists yet for children that young. Providers need to continue to be alert to signs of ASD throughout the first three years of life, and to signs of undiagnosed ASD in all children, youth, and adults.
Learn more about signs of ASD
- CDC ASD Signs and Symptoms – Examples of the range of symptoms, ‘red flag’ indicators, and social and communication skill issues.
- CDC checklist of skills – An interactive checklist to determine developmental milestones.
- NIMH Parent’s Guide to ASD
- Medline Plus autism symptoms
Screening & Diagnosis
Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test – like a blood test – to diagnose the condition. Instead, doctors must look at the child or adult’s development and social behavior to make an assessment. Standardized screening and diagnostic tools are available for adults and children age three years and older.
Learn more about screening and diagnosis
- CDC Autism Screening and Diagnosis
- Screening and Diagnosis for Healthcare Providers – CDC developmental screening and diagnostic tools.
- Medline Plus ASD exams and tests
Learn more about treatment
- CDC Treatment Information – Early intervention services, types of treatments, behavior and communication approaches, dietary approaches, and medication.
- NIMH Treatment Information
- Medline Plus Treatment Information
Causes & Prevalence
We do not yet understand all the causes of ASD. However, we have learned that there may be different factors that make a child more likely to have ASD, including genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
Learn more about causes, risk factors, and prevalence
- Causes and Risk Factors
- CDC Data & Statistics – prevalence, risk factors, characteristics, and economic costs associated with autism.
- Is Autism Inherited? – NHGRI information on genetics and autism.
Relationship of vaccines and autism
- Vaccines and Autism – CDC information on vaccines and autism.
- General Questions and Answers on Thimerosal – CDC information about Thimerosal.
- Thimerosal in Vaccines – FDA provides safety review of vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders.
- Thimerosal in Vaccines Questions and Answers – FDA discusses reports examining Thimerosal.
- Relationship of Vaccines and Autism – CDC research on the relationship between vaccines and autism.
- Vaccine Safety – CDC information on monitoring health problems after vaccination identifies possible vaccine side effects.
Several government agencies are involved in activities related to autism research.
- CDC Features: Autism Research – Overview of CDC’s Study to Explore Early Development (SEED)
- NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) – The ACE program comprises 11 research centers and networks that focus to identify the causes of ASD and develop new and improved treatments.
- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network – CDC funded programs to determine the number of people with autism.
- Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) – CDC established regional centers of excellence for autism and other developmental disabilities.
- Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) – CDC-funded study to help identify risk factors that may put children at risk for developmental disabilities.
- Autism Clinical Trials – National Institutes of Health ClinicalTrials.gov website that catalogs results for autism clinical trials.
- HRSA: Combating Autism Act – HRSA programs that address urgent issues affecting people with autism and their families.
- Report to Congress on Young Adults and Transitioning Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder – Describes the characteristics of youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the challenges related to the transition from existing pediatric and school-based services to those services available during adulthood. Furthermore, it summarizes existing federal investments focused on the transition period from childhood to adulthood for individuals with ASD, and identifies gaps and recommendations for further consideration in federal research, programs, and services that support youth with ASD during this critical time period. The National Autism Coordinator, Dr. Thomas Novotny (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (Science and Medicine) on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services developed the report in coordination with the Department of Education and in collaboration with the Departments of Transportation, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development. Additional input was provided by the Departments of Defense and Justice and the Social Security Administration.
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Publications – The Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006 (Public Law 109-416), requires the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to develop and annually update a Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is an advisory document to the U.S. Congress, the HHS Secretary, and the Director of NIH regarding the needs and opportunities for ASD research.
- IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, 2012 Update
- Report on State Services to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) – Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ASD Services Project assess the implementation of evidence-based/promising practices through the lens of state experience. The report summarizes the current state of autism-related services in nine representative states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It describes the types of services and their sources of funding, policy, staffing, and implementation issues that must be addressed to effectively serve people with ASD.
- Therapies for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders – Some medical and behavioral treatments show promise for reducing certain behaviors in children with ASDs, but more research is needed to assess the potential benefits and harms, according to a new report funded by HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
- Autism Organizations – National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke list of autism organizations.
- Autism websites – CDC links to other websites including those for families, financial resources for health care, assistive technology, healthcare providers, early intervention, educators, researchers, public and restricted-use data sets, and federal resources.
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) – Coordinates all efforts within HHS concerning autism spectrum disorder to combat autism through research, screening, intervention, and education.