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Help With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that can cause problems with thinking, feeling, language and the ability to relate to others.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

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  • Feb 12, 2016
Psychiatrists and Psychologists: Understanding the Differences

People often confuse psychiatrists and psychologists. There are similarities—both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to help people with mental health problems. But there are also important differences. If you need help with a mental health concern, who should you turn to, a psychiatrist or a psychologist?

  • Oct 26, 2015
Award-Winning Program Helps Teachers and Students Recognize Students Needing Help with Mental Health Challenges

Teachers and other school staff who spend a great deal of time with students don’t know how to identify students that may be in need of help or how and where to refer the students for help. Early intervention can prevent or delay symptoms or provide access to care before it becomes more serious.

  • Oct 23, 2015
This Halloween, Stigma Shouldn’t Be in Fashion

Stigma is a barrier to care for people with mental illness; more than one in four people cite stigma as a reason that they do not seek care. Being mindful about the way that we portray mental illness is important to help reduce stigma.

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How early can autism be identified? What should parents do if they are concerned their young child may have autism?

Some of the signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be noticed before the age of 1, although a reliable diagnosis by an autism specialist can be made in children as young as 18 months of age. Unfortunately many children end up waiting until after their 4th birthday to be diagnosed with ASD. Delays in seeking an initial assessment and limited access to specialists are just a couple of factors that help to explain this delay. Children who have less severe ASD, or are from minority backgrounds, tend to be diagnosed later than those with severe symptoms. Researchers are developing ways of being able to diagnose autism at even younger ages, such as using eye tracking technologies. The diagnosis of autism is typically based on a clinical examination, which is often supported with other information and tests. There is no single scan or blood test that can independently diagnose autism.

My advice to parents is to trust their gut instinct when they are worried about their child and to seek the advice of their primary care pediatrician. This general assessment may then lead to a referral to a specialist who will perform a more comprehensive evaluation. Parents should also feel empowered to ask for a specialist opinion if they do not feel adequately reassured by a primary care evaluation. More

Can children “grow out” of autism?

A small minority of children show considerable improvement in their ASD symptoms following diagnosis. While ASD has historically been considered a life-long condition, recent research has shown that the outcomes associated with an ASD diagnosis can vary considerably. Some people who were diagnosed with ASD in their youth may improve dramatically, and show little difference to people who have never had the diagnosis.

Whether these individuals “grew out” of autism, or simply responded exceptionally well to the therapeutic interventions, remains up for debate. One should also question if the initial diagnosis of ASD was accurate in these cases. At the moment it is difficult to identify which children will “grow out” of autism, although those who have less severe symptoms and those who obtain early access to the appropriate therapies appear to have better outcomes. More


About the Expert:

Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D.
Vice President, Health Strategy and Communications
Brain Power, LLC

Adam’s Story


Adam, a 12-year-old boy, was brought in by his mother for psychiatric evaluation. He had temper tantrums that were causing problems for him at school. She said that school had always been stressful for Adam and that it had become worse after he entered middle school.


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APA Resources

Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5

Understanding Mental Disorders is a consumer guide designed to promote education and understanding among anyone who has been touched by mental illness.

 Editor's Choice
  • December 9, 2015

Children of Women With PCOS Are More Likely to Develop Autism
Slate Magazine (blog)

Children of women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, run a 59 percent higher risk of autism than those whose mothers don't have PCOS, according to a new study from Sweden's Karolinska Institute. The report, published in Molecular Psychiatry, posits that exposure to certain sex hormones in utero may contribute to the development of autism-spectrum disorders. This is the first study suggesting a link between the two disorders. More

  • December 9, 2015

Outgrowing Autism? A Closer Look at Children Who Read Early or Speak Late
Scientific American

Some of these children may never have had autism in the first place, despite being diagnosed with it. More

Physician Review By:

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
July 2015