What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong, complex neurobiological disorder for which there is currently no documented cure.  It crosses a spectrum that ranges from relatively mild difficulties to extreme conditions involving severe language delay; repetitive and/or anti-social behavior, and even aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior.  Symptoms of autism change across the life course. An autism diagnosis involves deficits in three core areas: social interaction, use of language, and behavior and interests. Researchers are scrambling to determine whether autism is linked to genetics, environmental factors or a combination of both.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups.
It is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and, because most experts believe genetics are a contributing factor, it is possible that families with one autistic child are at significantly greater risk to have another child with autism.

Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others, and is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Other traits may include insistence on sameness, repeating words, preference for solitude, little fear of danger, ignoring verbal cues and being unresponsive to normal teaching methods.

Autism spectrum disorders can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 3, although new research is pushing back the age of diagnosis to as early as 6 months. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child or their child’s failure to reach appropriate developmental milestones. Some parents describe a child that seemed different from birth, while others describe a child who was developing normally and then lost skills. Pediatricians may initially dismiss signs of autism, thinking a child will “catch up,” and may advise parents to “wait and see.”

What is Fragile X?

Fragile X is a family of genetic conditions, which can impact individuals and families in various ways. These genetic conditions are related in that they are all caused by gene changes in the same gene, called the FMR1 gene. Click here to learn more.


The latest statistics released by the CDC suggest 1 in every 68 American children are diagnosed with autism, that’s a 30% increase over 2012 data. In boys, that rate has risen to 1 in 42. A child is diagnosed with autism every 15 minutes.


The symptoms of autism can appear differently and at different times during development. Some children with autism appear normal before age 1 or 2 and then suddenly “regress” and lose language or social skills they had previously gained. Others may have subtle symptoms and not get diagnosed until later childhood, even adulthood.

Some common symptoms of autism:

  • Loss or delay of language
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties
  • Impaired pretend play skills
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Have unusual attachment to objects
  • Impaired eye contact
  • Have unusual distress when routines are changed
  • People with autism may be overly sensitive to touch,  hearing, sight, smell, or taste (for example, they may have an adverse reaction to common household items being turned on such as a hair dryer or vacuum)

Where to Start

Learning that your child has autism can be an overwhelming experience. Be proactive. As is any parent, you are your child’s biggest and best advocate!

Educate Yourself

Arm yourself with important information you need to know about the autism including traditional, alternative therapies, research advancements, social and welfare rights. The more knowledge you have about autism, the more prepared you are to make competent decisions for your child. The key to success is getting treatment for your child started as early as possible.

Find Support

Every family deals with the diagnosis of autism differently.

If your family is supportive, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Some families go through a period of denial and may not immediately be able to give you the support you need. This is a very difficult time but you are not alone.  You may want to interact with someone that is going through the same experience as you. There are many support groups throughout the country and on the internet that you can join. Becoming a member of a support group may help you cope with your symptoms, identify with other patients and even find a life-long friend.

For families just starting out, download the first 100 days Tool Kit.

For families transitioning into adulthood, download the Transition Tool Kit.

  • Learn more about RJ Peete.