1. What is Autism?


Changes to Autism Diagnosis in DSM 5:


A complex neurological developmental disorder that affects the brain and creates deficits in:
  1. Communication and language
  2. Social Interaction
  3. Behavior (restricted and repetitive)
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Educational Definition (IDEA) 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1)(i)
“Autism” means a developmentaldisability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbalcommunication and social interactions, generally evident before age 3,that adversely affects a child’seducational performance.

1. Communication Impairments

  • Individual may not develop any spoken language, or may have significantly delayed language development.
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations with others
  • Stereotyped, repetitive, or idiosyncratic use of language
  • It may be difficult for students with autism to understand the communication of others:
    • questions
    • instructions
    • body language & gestures
    • tone of voice
    • facial expressions

2. Impairments in Social Interaction

  • Impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviors
  • Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  • May have little interest in interacting with others, often preferring to be alone.
  • Does not seek to share enjoyments, interests, or achievements with other people
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  • Difficulty understanding social rules such as turn-taking or sharing
  • Does not “read” or understand feelings of others, making it difficult to adjust their own behavior accordingly.
  • Difficulty seeing another person’s perspective
  • Difficulty with regulating own emotions, or has emotional reactions that are out of place for the circumstance

Educational Definition (IDEA) 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1)(i)
Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement inrepetitiveactivities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in routine, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

3. Restricted & Repetitive Behavior

  • May prefer to repeat the same activities in a variety of situations, such as lining up objects
  • Has narrow interests and often an intense focus on specific topics
  • Changes in settings or routines may be upsetting
  • May insist on sameness, struggling with even minorchanges to the environment

Associated Features


Sensory Difficulties: Students with autism often have significant sensory differences when compared to typically-developing peers. May be under-responsive or over-responsive to:
  • Light (sunlight, fluorescent lights, TV images)
  • Noise (music, crowd noise, alarms)
  • Smells (food, cologne, household cleaners)
  • Touch (clothing, hugs, social situations)
  • Textures of foods (food jags)
This difficulty with sensory processing may affect the student in many possible ways:
  • Avoid / Escape (cover ears/eyes, attempt to leave)
  • Seek out a higher intensity (larger quantity, louder, brighter)
  • Emotional responses (crying, tantrum)
  • Motivation: The desire for items/activities, like reinforcers, is affected.
  • Willingness to comply with non-preferred requests (i.e., academic) may be reduced.

Challenging Behaviors: These interfere with learning and other activities within the classroom, such as:
  • Difficulty in attending to activities and people
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Verbal outbursts
  • Tantrums
  • Non-compliance to adult requests

How prevalent is Autism?
  • Currently: Between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240, with an average of 1 in 110 children (Centers for Disease Control, CDC)
  • 4X more likely to occur in boys

Autism is a Spectrum Disorder, so the severity of impairment varies from person to person. Higher-functioning individuals:
  • May have no significant general language delay (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communication phrases by age 3 years)
  • May not have a significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
  • May show an interest in social interactions, but has difficulty navigating them.

Educational Implications of Autism:
  • Academic performance
  • Organizational skills
  • Adaptive / daily living skills
  • Generalizing skills across settings and/or people
  • Difficulties working in groups
  • May require direct teaching and repetition to acquire new skills
  • Challenging behavior