About Autism

What is Autism?
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). Children and adults with autism exhibit atypical, repetitive behaviors and deficits in social and communication skills. Autism is usually diagnosed during the first four years of life and is four to five times more prevalent in boys than in girls. It knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries.

Autism, Asperger’s Disorder and PDDNOS are commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASDs. This label conveys the continuum of ability levels, but is not itself an official diagnosis.




  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys nationwide, according to the CDC
  • Autism affects 1 in 41 children in New Jersey
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability U.S.
  • The cost of supporting an individual with an ASD and intellectual disability during his or her lifespan was $2.4 million in the US. (Previous cost study 2007)
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

March 27, 2014 — The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing 1 in 68 children nationally has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This newest estimate is based on the CDC’s evaluation of health and educational records of all 8-year-old children in 2010 in 11 states, including New Jersey.  New Jersey has the highest rates, with 1 in 41, 1 in 26 boys. The national rate marks an increase of 30% from the previous 1 in 88 statistic.

  • Gender: The report shows that autism prevalence remains 5 times more likely in boys than girls, with 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls (nationally) identified with an ASD in this latest report.
  • Age of Diagnosis: The average age of diagnosis is still 4 years of age, although autism can be reliably established as early as 18 months.
  • IQ: One notable change is that more children identified with an ASD have average or above average intelligence, from one-third in 2002 to half in 2010.
  • Methodology: With this report, we now have a decade of surveillance data utilizing consistent methodology that presents a clear picture of the trends since 2000.   It should be noted that all studies utilized DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.



Facts about Autism

Did you know …
1 in 41 children in New Jersey is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Boys: 1 in 26 Girls: 1 in 172
Autism prevalence figures are growing! More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined. Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in next decade, yet autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
There is no medical detection or cure for autism
Prevalence vs. Private Funding
Leukemia: Affects 1 in 1,200 / Funding: $277 million
Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 100,000 / Funding: $162 million
Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 300 / Funding: $394 million
Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $156 million
Autism: Affects 1 in 68 / Funding: $79 million
National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation
Total 2010 NIH budget: $35.6 billion
Of this, only $218 million goes directly to autism research. This represents 0.6% of total NIH funding.
What causes Autism?

The simple answer is we don’t know. The vast majority of cases of autism are idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.

The more complex answer is that just as there are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms in autism, there are probably multiple causes. The best scientific evidence available to us today points toward a potential for various combinations of factors causing autism – multiple genetic components that may cause autism on their own or possibly when combined with exposure to as yet undetermined environmental factors. Timing of exposure during the child’s development (before, during or after birth) may also play a role in the development or final presentation of the disorder.

A small number of cases can be linked to genetic disorders such as Fragile X, Tuberous Sclerosis, and Angelman’s Syndrome, as well as exposure to environmental agents such as infectious ones (maternal rubella or cytomegalovirus) or chemical ones (thalidomide or valproate) during pregnancy.

There is a growing interest among researchers about the role of the functions and regulation of the immune system in autism – both within the body and the brain. Piecemeal evidence over the past 30 years suggests that autism may involve inflammation in the central nervous system. There is also emerging evidence from animal studies that illustrates how the immune system can influence behaviors related to autism. Autism Speaks is working to extend awareness and investigation of potential immunological issues to researchers outside the field of autism as well as those within the autism research community.

While the definitive cause (or causes) of autism is not yet clear, it is clear that it is not caused by bad parenting. Dr. Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist who first described autism as a unique condition in 1943, believed that it was caused by cold, unloving mothers. Bruno Bettelheim, a renowned professor of child development perpetuated this misinterpretation of autism. Their promotion of the idea that unloving mothers caused their children’s autism created a generation of parents who carried the tremendous burden of guilt for their children’s disability.

In the 1960s and 70s, Dr. Bernard Rimland, the father of a son with autism, who later founded the Autism Society of America and the Autism Research Institute, helped the medical community understand that autism is not caused by cold parents but rather is a biological disorder.

Symptoms of Autism

Autism affects the way a child perceives the world and makes communication and social interaction difficult. The child may also have repetitive behaviors or intense interests. Symptoms, and their severity, are different for each of the affected areas – Communication, Social Interaction, and Repetitive Behaviors. A child may not have the same symptoms and may seem very different from another child with the same diagnosis. It is sometimes said, that if you know one person with autism; you know one person with autism.

The symptoms of autism typically last throughout a person’s lifetime. A mildly affected person might seem merely quirky and lead a typical life. A severely affected person might be unable to speak or care for himself. Early intervention can make extraordinary differences in a child’s development. How a child is functioning now may be very different from how he or she will function later on in life.

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