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Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Araceli H. Hermosa

Brandman University


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that impacts an

individuals ability to communicate, to interact socially, and to react to its surrounding. The

author first defines what is ASD and shared four paradigms of the possible causes of ASD. It

pointed out that vaccines are the cause of autism but pointed out that chemical substances

ingested or taken by the mother increases the risk of having a child with autism. The author also

pointed out the different ways of diagnosis for children with ASD noting that ASD has no

medical test but a series of evaluation by licensed professionals. The different characteristics:

cognitive, communication, social, behavior and sensory integration of an individual with ASD

were each discussed. The author concluded with a briefly mentioned of the Evidence Based

Practices that are required to be adapted by educators or any support providers.

The author had done some research and cited the sites of organization that have done

extensive work in understanding autism. The author also used journals and articles that were

from well-respected researchers and professionals in their field of expertise. I believe that I have

provided enough information to the reader to have a grasp of what is an autism. Though the

information may not fully provide the whole explanation of the what is ASD, the information

contributed will also give leads on what to focus on or where to look for more information.

Characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism, what is that? I do not think so. I believe my child is just being a kid. He is shy

and have not meet you yet so I am sure that is whats causing him to not response to your call or

does not seem to notice that you are next to him. I think that will be my response if a friend of

mine will suggest that my son is showing behaviors of a child with autism. However, knowing

myself, I probably would have wondered too why my son will not respond, will not make eye

contact with most people and prefers to play alone for hours by himself. The statistics from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) site shared that about 1 in 68 children has

been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDCs Autism

and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Moreover, it says that it is 4.5%

more common in boys than among girls. The site further claimed that ASD is reported to occur

in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. These are just some of the statistics available out

there. In this paper, I will try to provide as much information as I can about autism spectrum

disorder so that it will resolve some areas that might still be confusing to parents, families,

educators, other service providers, and most of all, individuals with ASD.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) site, autism spectrum

disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social interaction,

communication and behavioral challenge. The site and a research by Komiko (2013) further said

that physical appearance of children with ASD does not differ from any individuals with typical

development (TD) of an individual. What will set them apart is in the way they communicate,

interact, behave and learn ways. Autism presents strengths not available to the typical

population, but the different pattern of strengths and weaknesses characterizing autism results in

many difficulties as atypical needs and adaptive but atypical autistic behaviors are at odds with

what is considered or expected as "normal" (Dawson, 2006). In 2013, the Diagnostic and

Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) was updated and had put what

used to be in each category autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise

specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome under the autism spectrum disorder (,

2017). Here is a link to the summary of the differences and the comparison of the DSM and

IDEA 04.

What is the Possible Cause of Autism?

There are many beliefs circulating about the possible cause of autism but there is no one

possible cause of what it was due from. There are different researches on what it could be due

ranging from chemicals pollutants, vaccines received by the baby, and gene mutations. I will

name some that I have found in my research here:

Biological Genetic Paradigm

According to Fadda and Cury (2016), in their research they put together on the etiology

of autism, they cited the works of Leo Kanner about its possible origin to Aspergers work that

was not published, to more recent work that mentioned the possible gene mutations and a

possible presence of defective gene predispose of becoming the cause of the abnormal

development of the genes designated role in the development of the fetus especially during the

prenatal period. Furthermore, Fadda and Cury (2016) added that there are researches that a

possible presence of a gene that spontaneously mutated might also lead to greater chance of

having a child with autism spectrum disorder. (2017) mentioned as well that children

who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD. Autism Speaks (2017)

and sites further expand that problems that arise before birth and after birth increases

the chance of having a child with autism spectrum disorder. Birth related (born too early, or too

small) and/or Cesarean does not cause autism but the risk of having a child born in this manner

have rick of having autism spectrum disorder. In other words, the C-section procedure itself

does not appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism. Rather, one or more

common, underlying factors may increase the likelihood for both. (Autism Speaks, 2015).

Environmental Paradigm

The meta-analysis of Liu, Gao, He, Cai, Wang, and Fan, (2017) tries to focus on finding

ways to prevent ASD by identifying the causes of ASD. They focus on the association of the use

of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk in

offspring. All the included studies were published during 2006-2015, including 3 cohort studies

and case control studies. The result of the meta analysis suggested that the use of ART maybe

associated to the higher percentage of ASD in children. Importantly, the preterm delivery appear

to be mediating factors in the ART-autism association. The study involved 8,161,225 patients

that were cited in the combined cases that they did. In addition, they not only use cases here in

America but included Europe and Asia as well. The increasse popularity and acceptance of the

the use of ART in having a baby made this meta-analysis noteworthy.

In the review of Fadda and Cury (2016) the cited the incident in 1998, where British

physician Andrew Wakefield and his staff published an article about immunization vaccine,

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) triple vaccines, relating it to autism. It created havoc a

controversy but it was later found out to be fraud. He later lost is license but the issue of vaccines

causing autism had already created a community of parents who lost confidence in immunization

program, thus, have opted to not have their children vaccinated with MMR triple vaccines. An

incident in December 2014 on the outbreak of measles that happened at Disneyland Resort have

created another focus on vaccines when it was later found out that most of the victims where not

immunized of MMR. It is now established in the scientific community that vaccines and

exposure to mercury are not the primary cause of autism but there is a growing concern that

prescription drugs and medications to address diabetes and hypertension might increase the risk

of the development of autis. (2017) further added that when taken during pregnancy,

the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of


Fadda and Cury (2016) did mentioned that:

Although environmental factors are solely correlational, and not entirely consistent, there

are several alternative treatments proposed, depending on which agents are assumed in each

case. According to the pediatricians Levy and Hyman (2008), the alternative treatments found to

reduce the symptoms can be classified into: (a) Food supplements: vitamin B6, magnesium,

dimethylglycine, melatonin, vitamin C, amino acids, omega-3, folic acid and secretin; (b)

Pharmacological: antibiotics, antifungal agents, gastrointestinal medicines, hyperbaric oxygen

therapy and immune therapies; and (c) Other therapies with gluten-free or casein-free diets, or

chelation therapy, which promise the detoxification of the organism. However, there is still not

positive scientific proof of these treatments. (p. 416).

Relational Paradigm

Andrew Kanner, as mentioned by Fadda and Cury (2016), has suggested that family

relationship might be causing an individual with ASD to acquire there identifying characteristics.

Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, also mentioned by Fadda and Cury (2016) shared that disorder

was caused by some destructive situation in the child psychological development, consequently,

leading him/her to reject the world around him/her. Thus, out of this, a Refrigerator mother

was coined as a possible cause of the development of the child with autism. Autism

(2017) said that the promotion of the idea that unloving mothers caused their childrens autism

created a generation of parents who carried the tremendous burden of guilt for their childs

disability. This has now been debunked as the cause of the development of autism.

Neurodiversity Paradigm

These paradigm that the development of autism is natures development. Fadda and Cury

(2016) mentioned that the paradigm of neurodiversity sees autism as a diversity of human

nature due to the atypical neurological development, consisting in a matter of identity that does

not need to be treated. Therefore, it demands respect for differences, political positions and

social rights. This came out initially when introduced by a sociologist Judy Singer, who at that

time was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. John Elder Robinson, (2013) who seats in the

advisory board of Autism Speaks society, who himself has autism and an adult son with autism,

shared that autism is the result of an injury or a disease. Indeed, many individuals who embrace

the concept of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured; they

need help and accommodation instead. (Robison, 2013).

How is Autism diagnosed?

There is no specific medical test to identify a child with autism. Instead it is an autism-

specific behavioral evaluation conducted by licensed physician. This evaluation relies on DSM-5

and uses the autism spectrum disorder as the diagnose category (Diagnosis, 2017). How this

works is initiated by the parents as early as they believe/suspect their child is showing atypical

behaviors. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for

ASD at 18 and 24 months during their well-child visit (Diagnosis, 2017). On the other hand,

once the child is already of school age and have not been diagnosed with autism spectrum

disorder yet is exhibiting atypical behavior the educational determination is used (Diagnosis,

2017). This is a team of multidisciplinary professionals that do their individual evaluation and

come up together to decide as a team whether the child has autism. They used the term autism

to designate the child to receive services. The IRIS Center (2017) shared that an educational

determination and a medical diagnosis of ASD result in different services. Also, it is possible for

a child to have a medical diagnosis of ASD but not qualify for special education services under


What are the Cognitive Characteristics of ASD?

The definition of ASD is said to be a developmental disability in brain development.

These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal

and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. (Autism, 2012). This is a spectrum thus

the learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to

severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need

less (, 2017). Cognitive deficits, including mental retardation, are interwoven with

social and communication difficulties, and many of the theoretical accounts of autistic spectrum

disorders emphasize concepts, such as joint attention and theory of mind, that involve

components of cognition, communication and social understanding. (National Research Council

[NRC], 2001). Individuals with ASD then have been observed difficulties in assessment and

low-test scores were attributed to negativism or untestability according to Brown and Pace,

1969 and Clark and Rutter, 1977. (cited by NRC, 2001). Many of those on the autism spectrum

have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have

average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take

deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and atypical ways of viewing the world while others

are unable to live independently without help. (Autism, 2012).

What are the Social Characteristics of Autism?

According to Adrienne Golden, a teacher at Susan Gray School and an Early Childhood

Lead Teacher at Vanderbilt University (CDC, 2017) said that the social interaction is one of a

more recognizable behavior associated with ASD. They find it hard to make or learn to engage

in a give-and-take of everyday human interaction. (Autism, 2012). They are often unable to

understand and express their needs just as they are unable to interpret and understand the needs

of others. This impairs their ability to share interests and activities with other people.

(Characteristics, 2017). Thus, they seem to prefer being alone, usually avoids eye contact, and

have trouble relating to others or have not have an interest in other people at all (CDC, 2017).

According to Autism Speaks Inc. brochure (Autism, 2012):

Research has suggested that although children with autism are attached to their parents,

their expression of this attachment is often unusual and difficult to read. To parents, it may

seem as if their child is not attached at all. Parents who looked forward to the joys of cuddling,

teaching, and playing with their child may feel crushed by this lack of the expected and typical

attachment behavior.

According to Komeda, et al (2013), multiple sources of evidence show a lack of

reciporcal social behavior in ASD, that questions about whether individuals with ASD lack the

capacity for reciprocal social behavior or whether they just fail to exhibit this behavior remain

unanswered. In this context, they are not able to undesrtand or predict other peoples actions.

What are the Communication Characteristics of ASD?

Merriam Webster Dictionary (2017) defines communication as a characteristic of any

animal to a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a

common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. According to Ganz, et al (2012) social

competence is demonstrated in ones interactions with peers including the choice of behaviors

used and ability to accomplish a predetermined social goal. Being able to communicate what you

need, what youre thinking, what your pain is and what you feel among the other things that need

to be communicated is one of the ways to have achieve social competence. Communication,

whether verbal and nonverbal, is social (Issues, 2008). Without learning the skills needed to

successfully interact with others in their environment, children with ASD are at a distinct

disadvantage in accessing critical learning opportunities required for success later in their lives

(Schiel, 2016). Thus, their behavior characteristic of not making an eye contact, not responding

to calls and their sensitivity to sensory integration that is going on around them makes it even

difficult for them to learn the communication process and the language involve in social


One of the characteristic that is common to individuals with ASD is the lack of speech

itself. In the autism spectrum individuals with the communication/language disorders can fall in

any range. Some individuals with an ASD never speak, behaving as though they are deaf, even

though hearing tests show they can hear in the normal range. Some experience significant speech

delays or ongoing speech impediments (Issues, 2008). Thus, for a family with a child with

communication disorder, it is a humungous challenge to address. When the child is still a baby,

discerning the need may not be that difficult yet since at that stage in growth they are expected to

cry to communicate the need for food or share their discomfort. However, when they are at age

three and still unable to say in words or point to what they need other than a cry, a squeal or a

wail for something, the parents are likely going to feel helpless of not being able to address right

away the need of the child. Eventually, parents can read the sound of the childs voice to what it

means. According to IAN Community organization (Issues, 2008), there are children with ASD

who will acquire some use of words but will eventually lose them in toddlers years, and this

occurrence is called regression. The organization further site from another study that

regression is thought to occur in about 25% of children with ASDs (Issues, 2008).

Komeda, Kosaka, Saito, Mano, Jung, Fuji, Yanaka, Toshio, Munesue, Ishitobi, Sato, and

Okazawa, (2015) said that individuals with ASD have deficits in reciprocal social

interaction and impairment in verbal communication such as difficulties is

understanding humor, irony, and sarcasm. This lack of acquisition of this skill can

confuse a child with ASD. For example, if the child hears his/her father say to the

mother, You are my rock, the child will be wondering why his/her mother is a rock

when she can speak! Komeda and the other authors further commented that multiple

sources of evidence show a lack of reciprocal social behavior in ASD questions about

whether individuals with ASD lack the capacity for reciprocal social behavior or

whether they just fail to exhibit this behavior (2013). This, they said needs further


In IAN Community organization (2008) they also shared that pragmatic

characteristics in communication process is another area that is of weakness to students

with ASD. Pragmatic language, which is sometimes referred to as the art of conversation," is

not exhibited by these individuals. They do not know when to join the conversation, leave a

conversation or see the need to reply even non-verbally when conversing with another person.

With some individuals with ASD, they can continue to talk on and on about their area of passion

regardless of the interest of the listener. This behavior is sometimes the reason their peers would

shun them away.

What is the Behavior Characteristics of ASD?

Being around with people, even with family members, there are typical expected

behavior that is involve in the communication process or just being a part of it. Thus, in the same

context, expected behavior social interaction is also included. Children with ASD has deficits in

this area. As mentioned in DSM-5 as cited by the IRIS Center, in the context of the behavior

associated in social and communication interaction, they lack the reciprocal social behavior

(Komeda, et al, 2013) that is expected. For example, they will not be able to maintain or initiate

back-and-forth conversation with someone. A response might be given at the beginning but that

will not be followed by another response. Another behavior typical of children with ASD is they

will be poor in integrating body language or making eye contact in communication process. In

addition, a common behavior of children with ASD is also lack the social cues to maintain that

communication message open by an absence of interest in their glance or look (IRIS, 2014).

Restricted/repetitive activities are also stereotypic behavior of children with ASD. What

would that look like? For example, one of my student in class would like to seat in the same seat,

put in a certain angle facing the board. He also wants to see the completed agenda list of

activities for the day on the board. If I do not have an activity I must specify that and cannot

leave the board blank. This typical behavior of insistence on sameness or inflexibility to changes

of routine activities can be just one of the behaviors exhibited by the child with ASD. In

addition, they also do repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, head rolling, or body rocking

( I will expand this in another paper that such behaviors are reaction to

sensitivity of their senses either hypersensitive, hyposensitive or mixed reactive to what they are

sensing through hearing, touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, or movements (Biel, 2012). In

response to the pain or the lack thereof of the threshold that children with ASD experience, their

reactive behavior will vary. No single repetitive behavior seems to be specific to autism, but

only autism appears to have an elevated pattern of occurrence and severity of these behaviors.

( Another stereotypical behavior of child with ASD is repetitive motor

movements such as use of objects or speech. (IRIS, 2014). An example of this is echolalia

where the child will repeat what an adult said to the child.

Children with ASD display many forms of behavior that may not be so discreet or not so

observable unless full diagnostic evaluation is perform by a certified evaluator. Diagnosing

autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test,

to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the childs behavior and development to make a

diagnosis. (Lord, 2006). Thus, in my opinion, I strongly agree with what experts are saying that

an early diagnosis of ASD clearly makes a difference in the support and intervention that will be

available to the child. It is my conclusion that with the behavior that my son is exhibiting, I will

now go to my childs pediatrician to ask for further support and diagnosis.

What are the Sensory Characteristics of ASD?

Many people with autism have unusual responses to sensory input (also called stimuli).

These responses are due to difficulties in processing and integrating sensory information.

(Autism, 2012). These are problems with sensory integration, as the nervous system has

difficulty receiving, filtering, organizing and making use of sensory information, commonly

known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction. (Our five senses, including unfamiliar vestibular

system (sense of movement), proprioception (sense of position), and interoception (the

physiological sense of our body) can all be affected. (Biel, 2012).

According to Autism Speaks Inc., (2012) individuals with autism sensory challenges can

involve hypersensitivity (over reactivity), also known as sensory defensiveness, or

hyposensitivity (under reactivity). Many people with autism are highly attuned or even painfully

sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Some children find the feel of clothing

touching their skin almost unbearable, or might be distracted by the buzz of an airplane or a bee

long before anyone else is aware of its presence. Hyposensitivity might be apparent in an

increased tolerance of pain or a constant need for sensory stimulation. Some people with autism

are oblivious to extreme cold or heat (dangerous in icy conditions or when working near a stove).

A child with autism may fall and break an arm, yet never cry. Responses to sensory overload can

range from shutting down and checking out of the environment, to preoccupation or

distraction, or negative behaviors such as aggression or running away. Sensitivities can change

or improve over time.

The following are some signs that a child may have a dysfunction in sensory-motor

processing: (, 2017)

Repetitive behaviors such as spinning, head banging or flapping or hands

Poor coordination and handwriting

Poor eye contact

Short attention span

Avoidance or over reaction to touch

Difficulty identifying objects by touch


Clumsiness and lack of balance

Repetitive or slow speech

Lack of body image and awareness

Raised shoulders

Fear of movement, avoids motor play

Fear and anxiety in new situations or changed routines

As an educator, understanding and knowing the characteristics of ASD early on helps

tremendously in providing the needed accommodations, modifications and supports these

individuals need to access learning and be successful. Whalon, et al (2015) cited that the best

intervention that had proven to be more effective to use with individuals with ASD is made up of

multidisciplinary team working together as one. According to the IRIS Center, many practices

found effective for either teaching children with ASD appropriate behaviors and skills or for

decreasing inappropriate behaviors are based on applied behavior analysis (ABA). There are

currently 27 Evidence Based Practices that are accepted and identified by the The National

Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder for improving outcomes

for students with ASD. Many of these practices are based on ABA. Out of these practices are five

foundational strategies - reinforcement, prompting, time delay, modeling, and task analysis. These

fundamental strategies can be used to target discrete skills or behaviors or they can be part of a

larger intervention. (IRIS Center, 2017). The key is something should be done with these

individuals but nothing can be achieved if there is no proper evaluation and then no action taken.

While there are still many studies and research being done to understand autism spectrum disorder

both scientifically and educationally, for the time being, we must make do in what we should the

best that we can in making it work for them.



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