What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex and lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a person’s early childhood.  It is a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of a person’s brain.  Autism is characterized by deficits and symptoms in areas such as social communication and social interaction; nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interactions; developing and maintaining relationships; restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.  Autism individuals differently and to varying degrees.

Signs and Characteristics

Some of the behaviors associated with Autism include the following:

Restrictive, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests, or Activities:

• Arranges objects or toys in a particular manner.
• Stereotyped and repetitive mannerisms such as hand-flapping, spinning of body, or toe walking.
• Prefers sameness and has demonstrates distress when changes occur.
• Strong attachment to inanimate or unusual objects.
• Persistent preoccupation or obsessions with parts of objects.
• Displays ritualistic behaviors throughout their day.
• Views objects at close range.
• Demonstrates unusual fears.
• Over reacts or under reacts when pain occurs.
• Squinting of eyes or uses peripheral vision to look at objects.
• Avoids particular textures.
• Demonstrates pronoun reversal.

Social Communication and Social Interactions:

• Difficulty understanding social cues and rules.
• Does not understand personal space boundaries.
• May appears aloof, deaf or prefers to be alone.
• Failure to engage in activities with peers.
• Difficulty following instructions of others.
• May demonstrate aggressive behaviors towards others.
• Problems expressing themselves during difficult and stressful situations.
• Difficulty demonstrating or understanding gestures.
• Pulls or leads someone towards a desired object.
• Does not respond when name is called.
• Impairments in joint attention.
• Lack of “theory of mind.”

Learning Characteristics:

  • Concrete Thinkers
  • Over-Selectivity
  • Generalization
  • Same Content-Same Context
  • Visual & Spatial Learners
  • Distractibility
  • Ritualistic Learner
  • Lack of Motivation


There is no known single cause of Autism that has been identified. However, several factors are being investigated including genetics, environmental factors, immunological, infections, medications during pregnancy, and advanced maternal age. However, increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports leads to significantly improved outcomes.

Facts and Statistics:

• Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 44 births (CDC, 2021).
• Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months and with certainty by 2 years
• About 1 percent of the world population is Autistic, with more than 3.5 million Autistic Americans  (Buescher et al., 2014).
• The growth comparison during the 1990’s: U.S. population increase: 13%; Disabilities increase: 16%; and Autism increase: 172%.
• Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
• Family income lifestyle, and educational levels does not affect the chance it will occur.
• Autism is almost five times more common among males (1 in 42) than among females (1 in 189).
• Symptoms range from mild-to-moderate-to severe.
• Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability (CDC, 2008).


• The U.S. cost of Autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability (Buescher et al., 2014).
• Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually (Buescher et al., 2014). In ten years, the annual cost for providing funding and services for persons affected by an autism spectrum disorder will be $200-400 billion dollars.

How Can You Help?

The first step is to make persons more aware of Autism. The South Carolina Autism Society can get you started. We have events where you can volunteer your time or make a donation in your name.

Building Connections


We are actively building connections with businesses, schools, government and churches to provide resources to families in need across South Carolina. If you need help in your home or would like to help, please contact us! We cannot wait to hear from you!