What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as “Autism” or “ASD”) is a developmental, neurologic disorder that varies widely in exact presentation and severity. The disorder affects three primary areas of development: social interaction, communication, and behavior. The diagnosis is often made in early childhood when children’s speech, language and social development are not equal to his/her peers. Autism is generally characterized by the following areas of difficulty:

Social interaction:

  • Difficulty with understanding and use of appropriate eye contact, facial expression, gestures, etc.
  • Difficulty with peer relationships
  • Difficulty with shared attention


  • Delayed/disordered development of spoken language
  • Spoken language does not accompany intent and can seem meaningless
  • Repetitive use of language (i.e. copying others or repeating oneself)

Behaviors (stereotypic patterns, restricted interests):

  • Preoccupation with specific patterns of interest
  • Adherence to a specific nonfunctional routine
  • Repetitive motor mannerism (i.e. flapping arms)


Diagnosis of autism is based on behavioral observations, parent reports and neuro/psychological testing. Typically, it is necessary that a team of professionals composed of a developmental psychologist, a speech-language pathologist and an occupational therapist assess the child’s behavior, social interactions, communication, fine and gross motor skills, and sensory integration abilities. Specific recommendations regarding appropriate interventions are made following the thorough evaluation.

In some cases where autism is suspected but undiagnosed, speech and language intervention is initiated; during the course of intervention, parents may be referred to seek a multidisciplinary team evaluation.

At ESHC, speech-language pathologists assess a child’s language skills and social pragmatic skills (see “Language” and “Social Pragmatic Language” sections of this webpage for more details) to determine the impact of autism on the individual’s functional communication.


Treatment programs are family-centered and focus on parent training and education. Clinicians design a treatment program that best meets the needs of the child and their family. In addition, clinicians work on direct intervention of impaired expressive/receptive language and social pragmatic skills. At ESHC, our speech-language pathologists collaborate and utilize play-based activities that help expand the child’s language, social interaction and play skills.

Links for more information:

American Speech & Hearing Association:
Autism Speaks:
Families for Early Autism Treatment: