Get the Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, LABA

[This column was published in on April 6, 2022.]

What is ASD?
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interactions and social communication and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.
How many children have ASD?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in 44 children in the United States has an ASD (2021). 

How common is ASD?
Autism spectrum disorder is more common in children than cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. Autism occurs in all races, ethnicities, and social groups. It is five times more common in boys than in girls.
Do we know what causes autism?
Although a specific cause of autism is not known, current research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. Autism is believed to have a genetic basis, although no specific gene has been directly linked to the disorder. We do know that autism is NOT caused by vaccinations. 
How is ASD diagnosed?
According to the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ASD is diagnosed when a person exhibits three “persistent deficits” in social communication and social interaction, and at least two repetitive behaviors.
At what age should a child be screened for ASD?  
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend that all children be screened ASD at 18 months and again at 24 months. However, individuals of any age can be screened for ASD.
What are the benefits of an early diagnosis?
The earlier a child with ASD is diagnosed, the better the long-term outcome. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention during the first years of a child’s life can significantly impact his or her long-term prognosis, particularly in the areas of language and social behavior.
Are there autism treatments that work?
Yes! In its recently released National Standards Report, Phase 2, the National Autism Center identified 14 established treatments that produce beneficial outcomes effective for children and adolescents on the spectrum, and one for adults.
You can download a free copy of the report at

Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, LABA, is the Executive Director of the May Center School for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit