What is Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

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Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism, but increased awareness and treatment can help families today.

Symptoms are focused in three areas and individuals present in highly variable ways, depending on severity. The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms:

Social Skills

  • Does not respond to his/her name
  • Fails to have good eye contact
  • Appears to ignore voices
  • Resists, pulls away from hugs and holding
  • Seems oblivious to others’ feelings
  • Prefers playing alone; retreats to his/her own world


  • Does not talk by 2 years and exhibits other delays in development
  • Loses previously acquired words and sentences
  • Doesn’t make eye contact when requesting things
  • Speaks in an abnormal tone or rhythm (monotone or sing-song)
  • Can’t start a conversation or keep one going
  • Repeats words or phrases verbatim, but does not understand how to use them


  • Exhibits repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning and hand-flapping
  • Develops specific routines or rituals
  • Becomes upset when routines or rituals change even slightly
  • Moves constantly
  • May be fascinated by objects such as spinning wheels on a toy car
  • May be sensitive to light, sound and touch, but oblivious to pain

One percent of children in the United States ages 3 to 17 years of age have autism.

Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. Studies in Europe and the U.S. indicate that costs can be reduced by 50 to 67 percent with early diagnosis and treatment.

Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. They live normal life spans of about 75 years and need continuous family and government support for health, educational, social and welfare supports, particularly if they are not treated early in life.

The autism “epidemic” began around 1990 and the first generation of this wave are young adults entering society, which is unprepared to deal with the large numbers entering college, vocational training, and workplaces and often joining welfare rolls.

“We don’t have the programs. We don’t have the research,” said Dr. Robert Hendren, director of the University of California-Davis M.I.N.D. Institute. “We have this very large adult population of autistics coming along, and we don’t know how to deal with them. We just haven’t come to terms with it.”

The Autism Society of Hawaii’s objective is to enrich the lives of those with ASD and their families by providing programs, services and events which will foster their strengths, improve on their weaknesses and provide environments for them to grow as individuals.

Sources: Autism Society, Dr. William Bolman, Sacramento Bee