FAQs about Autism

How common is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Research conducted by the CDC (2023) reports the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder as 1:36. The full report can be accessed by visiting: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the functioning of the brain and how an individual takes in information and interacts with the world around them. Characteristics appear during the first 3 years of life and include challenges with social interaction and communication, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong condition.
Prior to 2013, autism spectrum disorders included three conditions that had similar core symptoms but differed in terms of how they were expressed and labeled. Those three disorders were:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS

The DSM 5, published in 2013, removed the three distinct spectrum disorders and replaced them with the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

How do I know if a person has Autism Spectrum Disorder?
No medical test exists to show that an individual has autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be diagnosed by observing the person, understanding their developmental history, and assessing how they communicate and relate to others. A few of the behaviors that a diagnostician may look for include: whether there is socially appropriate eye gaze; showing self-directed interest in what other people are doing, and engaging typically in play with others (if the individual is young). Parents should watch for the following: Early Signs of ASD

Who can diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed by a medical doctor or a licensed clinical psychologist. A multi-disciplinary team, which might include speech and occupational therapists, is also common. If a parent is concerned about the communication and social development of their child, they may see their general pediatrician or family doctor first. Frequently, the family will then be referred to a specialist who has specific experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disorders. This may be a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist or clinical psychologist with experience in the area of autism.
To register with and receive services from the WV ATC a diagnostic evaluation must be provided by a medical doctor or clinical psychologist. (An evaluation from a school psychologist is not accepted because those professionals are determining educational eligibility and not a psychological disorder.)

What types of assessments will be conducted during the diagnosis?
There are several assessments that can be used to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder. Usually a diagnostician will conduct a structured observation, and may ask the individual to respond to several activities as they look for specific indicators. A structured interview may be conducted with parents or guardians. Structured interviews provide the diagnostician with information about the individual’s past behavior and their behavior at home, school and in the community. A speech evaluation and/or psychological evaluation may also be conducted during the diagnostic evaluation.

What should I do once an individual is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Once an individual has been diagnosed it is important to begin intervention as early as possible. Early intervention usually focuses on intense skill building. Skills that are learned easily by typically developing persons can be difficult for someone with ASD. For example, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulty understanding social cues and may need to be taught to pay attention to others, play with others and communicate with others. Many skills must be broken down into smaller components and taught systematically. Early intervention, preschool, school programs and behavioral health centers are available to provide intervention. In addition, in West Virginia, a family can contact the WV ATC and receive services. The WV ATC works closely with families, school system personnel and behavioral health centers to develop and implement person centered positive behavior intervention and supports that are designed specifically for the individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
To find out more about how to register for services visit How to Register for Services or email Family Support Specialist Alexis Armstrong at armstrong73@marshall.edu.

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