What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are defined by:

  • Characteristic deficits in reciprocal social interactions (i.e., back and forth interactions) and communication
  • The presence of unusual, restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests. Social impairments are the core deficit in all ASDs.

Autism spectrum disorders have moved to the forefront of child psychiatry, psychology, and developmental pediatrics in recent years, as community awareness has increased and incidence rates continue to grow at an alarming rate.

Autism currently ranks as the second most common developmental disability diagnosed in the United States, behind intellectual disability and in front of cerebral palsy, hearing loss and vision impairment.1 2006 prevalence estimates reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) place the rate of ASD (autism, Asperger’s disorder, and PDD-NOS) at 1 in 110 children, with four times more boys affected than girls (1:70 boys versus 1:315 girls). 2

The term autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is used interchangeably with pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) to refer to autism and the four autistic-like conditions described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). 3 The other disorders are Asperger’s disorder, Rett’s disorder, childhood disintegration disorder (CDD), and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

  1. Yeargin-Allsopp M, Rice C, Karapurkar T, Doernberg N, Boyle C, Murphy C (2003). Prevalence of autism in a US metropolitan area. The journal of the American medical association, 289(1), 49-55.
  2. CDC (2009). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, United States, 2006. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 58(SS-10).
  3. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., TR). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.