What is Autism?

Autism is the nation’s fastest growing developmental disorder with a child receiving a new diagnosis every 20 minutes. The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control states that 1 in every 59 children has an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). This statistic represents a 30% increase over a 1-year period, with a higher prevalence among boys than girls (1 in 42 boys). The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in Alabama is higher with an increase of 82% over the past 5 years. This increase is nearly 1.5 times larger than the national average.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-IV; American Psychological Association, 2013) defines Autism Spectrum Disorder as “clinically significant impairments in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts and restricted, repetitive patters of behavior, interests, or activities”.

Persistent symptoms must be present in the early development period of life and impair everyday functioning. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Social Interaction Deficitsdelays in emotional reciprocating with others, reduced interest in others, inability to show or understand emotions, failure to responses to social interactions, difficulty in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships
  • Social Communication Delays-deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors, poorly integrated eye contact and body language, lack of varied facial expressions, difficulty understanding facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal cues from others
  • Restrictive, Repetitive Behavior Patterns-stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects or speech in a non-functional manner, preference of sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of play, thinking, or transitions, hyper or hypo-activity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment

The Riley Center uses research-based procedures to increase skill deficits and delays while decreasing restrictive, repetitive, and challenging behaviors.