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Autism Facts and Signs

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. They affect people in different ways and can range from mild to severe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Autism has no single known cause, and the number of diagnosed cases has risen sharply — 300 percent over the past 11 years. In 2012, the CDC reported that one in 88 American children had an ASD — an increase from one in 150 in 2002. Recently revised estimates point to an even higher rate of one in 50.

ASDs are almost five times more common among boys (one in 54) than among girls (one in 252).

A 2011 California Department of Education study found that about 1 percent of all children enrolled in the state’s public schools are diagnosed with autism. Orange County has the highest rate, with 1.5 percent; one child in 63 has been diagnosed with autism and is receiving special education services.

In the last 10 years, the autism rate has increased nearly fivefold in California. One in 94 children is receiving special education services for autism in 2011, compared to one in 431 a decade ago.

The UC Irvine Health Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Southern California has been evaluating, diagnosing and treating children with autism spectrum disorders for more than a decade. 

According to the CDC, individuals with an ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months of age.
  • Not point at objects (such as an airplane flying overhead) to show interest by 14 months.
  • Not play “pretend” games (such as "feeding" a doll) by 18 months.
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone.
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own.
  • Have delayed speech and language skills.
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia).
  • Give unrelated answers to questions.
  • Get upset at minor changes.
  • Have obsessive interests.
  • Flap their hands, rock their body or spin in circles.
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.

For more information about autism, visit the CDC website at

— Kathryn Bold, University Communications

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