The Signs

What Is Autism?


Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. This means it becomes apparent in early childhood and affects all aspects of a child’s development. The word Autism was first used as a diagnosis in 1943, by Dr. Leo Kanner.  According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 50 8-year-old children in the United States have been diagnosed with Autism. Autism is growing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent a year (Autism Society of America) and is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.


First Signs of Autism


Much research had been conducted to try to aid the earlier identification of ASD in young children. Some clear signs have now been identified that help parents to recognize possible developmental challenges in their own children. Consider your child in terms of the following behaviors:


  • Does your child consistently turn his head when you call his/her name?
  • Does your child make direct eye contact with you as much as other children?
  • Does your child look at toys you show him/her?
  • When you play with your child, does s/he smile at you often?
  • Does your child use gestures to communicate with you (e.g. pointing, waving, showing objects and reaching)? If so, does s/he use eye contact at the same time as using a gesture?
  • Does your child exchange sounds (or words) with you back and forth?


Most typically developing children will be exercising most of these social behaviors by about age 12 months. However, it is very important to be aware that there is a very wide variety in the way children develop in the first three years of life. Many children who seem delayed at 12 or 18 months will catch up with their peers by 36 months and will continue to develop typically. Some children who show significant delays in all of the above behaviors may receive a diagnosis of ASD later in life – if the developmental path remains unchanged.


Other signs that may indicate a developmental challenge are:

  • An unusual insistence on routine
  • A preference for being alone or aloofness
  • A resistance to being held or touched
  • Spinning objects or unusual sensory interests in objects (e.g. peering at objects, sniffing or licking non-food items, watching objects fall)
  • Engaging in repetitious motor movements (e.g. running in circles, jumping more than usual)
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Laughing, crying or showing distress for no apparent reason
  • No response to verbal instructions despite normal hearing test


Each child is unique and follows his/her own developmental pathway. It is important for parents to be aware of possible signs of ASD so that you can begin to change the developmental pathway, to return to typical, as soon as possible. If you are concerned about your child’s development, seek help right away; there is no risk in learning how to facilitate a child’s social development. Developmental pathways are dynamic, that is, they change in response to the social (and physical) environment – you can actively change you child’s developmental pathway.


What to do if you see these signs?


If you see some of these signs in your child, it is important to remember that in young children, there is a very wide range of what is considered normal development. Your child may not have Autism. If you are concerned, however, take your child to your doctor and describe to the doctor the behaviors you are seeing. Tell the doctor in detail the kinds of things you have seen in your child that are concerning you.


When a child is very young (under 3 years of age), many parents who raise concerns are often told things like “he’ll grow out of it” or “you’re just being over-protective”, which is sometimes is the case. However, parents know their children the best and if you are seeing things that lead you to suspect Autism, be persistent with your doctor until your child is evaluated by someone who could diagnose or rule-out Autism. This process can takes months, in some cases years, so DO NOT WAIT for a confirmed diagnosis to begin looking into treatments. Even if your child does not receive a diagnosis of Autism, if you are concerned about his or her development, seeing a specialist will give you the knowledge and tools you will need.


Ask your doctor and local specialists what treatments are available in your area and begin doing your own research. Use the Internet to understand more about the different treatment options available and explore those that make sense to you. The Son-Rise Program® is something you can begin using immediately (see Getting Started) to see the effects for your child and decide if you want to go further. It is completely non-invasive, it’s fun and there is no risk to your child.


Learn More About Autism (


A diagnosis of Autism is given when three specific areas of development are significantly affected. They are: social development, communication and repetitious behaviors and restricted interests (American Psychological Association, 1994, World Health Organizations, 1994). More specifically, People with Autism tend to be challenged by the ability to understand another’s perspective and may display a lack of empathy. Communication challenges may range from no use of language to the lack of ability to have fluid, creative conversations. Repetitious behaviors (often referred to as “stims”) may be patterns of fine or gross motor movement, repeated verbal lines (often called “scripting”) or involve unusual sensory stimulations (e.g. spinning or dropping objects or watching movement). Other people with Autism may have more usual interests but have an unusually restricted range of interests or become obsessive about select interests. These developmental differences tend to become apparent between 18 and 36 months of age.


People with Autism can be characterized not only by these areas of challenge but also by significant areas of strength. Many people with Autism are superior at what is known as systemizing, that is, “the drive to analyze objects and events, to understand their structure and predict their future behavior” (Baron-Cohen, 2005, pp. 110). This may be exhibited as an intense interest in train time-tables, for example, or an almost intuitive sense of how to program a computer. Other cognitive patterns have emerged through research. For example, People with Autism tend to show an above-average awareness of details and ability to segment stimuli (e.g. Happe, 1999). Some People with Autism have superior abilities in discrete areas such as mathematics, music or art (often referred to as islets of ability).


What Is ASD?


Autism is a spectrum disorder, now more commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This means there is a wide variety of severity of Autism. Some people with ASD are highly verbal and conversational while others may not use any verbal forms of communication. Similarly, some people with ASD are very withdrawn from all forms of social interaction while others have families and jobs. People with ASD test as having a wide range of IQs.


ASD has traditionally been thought of as a psychological or behavioral disorder. Some early theorists assumed it to be caused by emotionally withdrawn parenting (i.e. “refrigerator mothers” Bettelheim, 1967). This idea was long ago discredited. A diagnosis of ASD is still made on the basis of behavioral observation. There is currently no genetic, chemical or neurological test for Autism although all of these things have been shown to be instrumental in the etiology of the disorder (see Possible Causes). There is now a lot of evidence that ASD is primarily a neurobiological disorder. That is, that the characteristic social, communicative and repetitious behaviors from which the disorder is diagnosed are the developmental consequences of a brain that is fundamentally wired and organized differently (e.g. Baron-Cohen, 2005). To date however, there is not clear, agreed-upon cause of Autism. Consequently approaches to treatment can vary widely.


Facts About Autism


Did you know …

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability
  • At this alarming rate, in 10 years, 1 in 9 children will be diagnosed with autism.
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation $126 billion per year
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases


Prevalence vs. Private Funding

  • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 1,200 / Funding: $277 million
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 100,000 / Funding: $162 million
  • Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 300 / Funding: $394 million
  • Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $156 million
  • Autism: Affects 1 in 88 / Funding: $79 million

National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation
•Total 2011 NIH budget: $30.5 billion, and of this, only $169 million goes directly to autism research. This represents 0.6% of total NIH funding.

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