A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
En Español
divider line

Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically diagnosed in childhood. Autism is a kind of pervasive development disorder. All children with ASD have trouble with:

  • Social interaction
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Repetitive behaviors or interests

ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors that can range from the very mild to the severe.

Possible Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders for Children

  • Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
  • Does not speak one word by 16 months
  • Does not combine two words by 2 years
  • Does not respond to name
  • Loses language or social skills

Some Other Signs

  • Poor eye contact
  • Doesn't seem to know how to play with toys
  • Excessively lines up toys or other objects
  • Is attached to one particular toy or object
  • Doesn't smile
  • At times seems to be hearing impaired

The cause of autism is not known, but it's likely that genes play a role. These genes may disrupt normal brain development.

There is no cure for autism. But for many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Living options for adults with ASD include:

  • Independent living. Some adults with ASD are able to live entirely on their own. Others can live semi-independently in their own home or apartment if they have assistance with solving major problems, such as personal finances or dealing with the government agencies that provide services to persons with disabilities. This assistance can be provided by family, a professional agency, or another type of provider.
  • Living at home. Government funds are available for families that choose to have their adult child with ASD live at home. These programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid waivers, and others. Information about these programs is available from the Social Security Administration (SSA). An appointment with a local SSA office is a good first step to take in understanding the programs for which the young adult is eligible.
  • Foster homes and skill-development homes. Some families open their homes to provide long-term care to unrelated adults with disabilities. If the home teaches self-care and housekeeping skills and arranges leisure activities, it is called a "skill-development" home.
  • Supervised group living. Persons with disabilities frequently live in group homes or apartments staffed by professionals who help the individuals with basic needs. These often include meal preparation, housekeeping, and personal care needs. Higher functioning persons may be able to live in a home or apartment where staff only visit a few times a week. These persons generally prepare their own meals, go to work, and conduct other daily activities on their own.
  • Institutions. Although the trend in recent decades has been to avoid placing persons with disabilities into long-term-care institutions, this alternative is still available for persons with ASD who need intensive, constant supervision. Unlike many of the institutions years ago, today's facilities view residents as individuals with human needs and offer opportunities for recreation and simple but meaningful work.

Return to top


Treatments for autism focus on:

  • Improving speech and language skills
  • Improving non-verbal communication skills, such as making eye contact when speaking with someone and making correct hand gestures
  • Improving posture and balance
  • Reducing repetitive behaviors and rigid routines

Medicines also may help reduce the self-injury, tantrums, and other effects of autism.

Return to top

More information on Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders

Explore other publications and websites

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated: March 29, 2010.

Return to top