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About Autism

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder. Infants with Autism generally have no distinguishing features due to their disability and appear completely normal. However, parents often relate feelings that there was something not quite right about their childs development sometime around or following their second birthday (sometimes earlier). This may result from an absence of spoken language, because of unusual play behaviour, or extreme outbursts in response to a change in routine. Some parents have also identified that their child lacked eye contact or sometimes appeared deaf. Autism is characterised by delays or abnormal functioning in social interaction and communication, an absence of symbolic and imaginative play skills and the presence of repetitive and stereotypic behaviour.


Diagnosis is generally made by a Paediatrician experienced with Autism after parent/carer interviews and observations of the child interacting with toys and other people. Additional testing by a Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Audiologist may be required to rule out conditions other than Autism and evaluate present skills. As one of the hallmarks of Autism is the impairment of communication skills, it can be very difficult to test the intelligence level of Children with Autism and testing their cognitive abilities is often nearly impossible. It is estimated half the population with Autism may never speak. However, many people with Autism are frequently quite intelligent, but may appear to function as intellectually impaired due to their communication difficulties.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Autism can vary widely from one individual to the next. Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder because it ranges in severity across a wide range of conditions including Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. The severe form of the syndrome may include severe self injurious, repetitive, highly unusual and aggressive behaviour.

A diagnosis of Autism is based on the presence of a cluster of observable behavioural symptoms and lack of skills in particular areas of functioning. To receive a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder a person must exhibit symptoms from all of the following areas: [1]

  1. Impairments in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

  • marked impairment in the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures as part of their social interaction;

  • failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level;

  • a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest);

  • lack of social or emotional reciprocity.

  1. Impairments in communication, as manifested by at least one of the following:

  • delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through some other method of communication such as gesture or mime);

  • in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others;

  • stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language;

  • lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level.

  1. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

  • encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus;

  • apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals;

  • stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole body movements);

  • persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.

In addition, delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age three years must also be present:

  1. social interaction;

  2. language as used in social communication; or

  3. symbolic or imaginative play.

It is also important to rule out Rett's Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder as the possible cause of these symptoms.


The above information is intended as a general reference only and should not be used to diagnose an individual child. If you suspect your child may have Autism or is developmentally delayed, consult your child's Paediatrician as soon as possible.

[1] This information has been adapted from the Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autistic Disorder sourced from The American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

What is the chance your child will be diagnosed with Autism?

The incidence numbers vary depending upon what text you are reading and can range from 2-4 per 10,000 births (0.02-0.04 %) to 15 per 10,000 births (0.15 %). However, recent overseas reports suggest as many as 1 per 100 births (1%).

A press release distributed by Autism Queensland dated 4 March 1998 gave the incidence at "1 in 500 births" (0.2 %).

In a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report the estimated number of births in Queensland in 1997/98 was 46,904. This means approximately 94 children with Autism are born in Queensland each year using the incidence rate of "1 in 500".