Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that is characterized by deficits in the ability to learn, to communicate, and to form social relationships. Current estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the prevalence of autism at 1 in 150 children born today, making autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. Autism occurs across all racial, ethnic, and social groups and its effects typically last a lifetime.

Autism is described as a spectrum disorder because its symptoms vary from individual to individual both in terms of severity and variety of behavioral traits.


Some of the characteristics displayed in people with autism are:

  • Delay or lack or loss of speech
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Lack of response to other people
  • Treating others as if they were inanimate objects
  • Repetitive behaviors such as spinning or flapping hands
  • Balancing in precarious places
  • Eating, sleeping, and toileting difficulties
  • Extreme dislike of certain noises or textures
  • Extremely passive or extremely active behaviors
  • Dislike of being touched
  • Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain or sound
  • Failure to demonstrate typical signs of affection
  • No fear of danger
  • Restrictive range of interests
  • Extreme dislike of certain foods
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Lack of interest in toys
  • Desire to keep objects in rigid patterns
  • Desire to follow certain patterns of behavior
  • Self injurious behavior
  • Areas of advanced skill (in art, music, arithmetic, calendar, or memory)


The Checklist for Autism in Toddlers is a screening tool to be used by Pediatricians during the 18-month developmental checkup.

Section A – Ask Parent: Yes or No?

    1. Does your child enjoy being swung, bounced on your knee, etc?
    2. Does your child take an interest in other children?
    3. Does your child like climbing on things, such as up stairs?
    4. Does your child enjoy playing peek-a-boo/hide-and-seek?
    5. *Does your child ever pretend, for example, to make a cup of tea using a toy cup and teapot, or pretend other things?
    6. Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to ask for something?
    7. *Does your child ever use his/her index finger to point, to indicate interest in something?
    8. Can your child play properly with small toys (e.g. cars or bricks) without just mouthing, fiddling, or dropping them?
    9. Does your child ever bring objects over to you, to show you something?

Section B – GP’s observation Yes or No?

    1. During the appointment, has the child made eye contact with you?
    2. *Get child’s attention, then point across the room at an interesting object and say “Oh look! There’s a (name a toy)!” Watch child’s face. Does the child look across to see what you are pointing at?
      NOTE – to record yes on this item, ensure the child has not simply looked at your hand, but has actually looked at the object you are pointing at.
    3. *Get the child’s attention, then give child a miniature toy cup and teapot and say “Can you make a cup of tea?” Does the child pretend to pour out the tea, drink it, etc?
      NOTE – if you can elicit an example of pretending in some other game, score a yes on this item
    4. *Say to the child “Where’s the light?” or “Show me the light”. Does the child point with his/her index finger at the light?
      NOTE – Repeat this with “Where’s the teddy?” or some other unreachable object, if child does not understand the word “light”. To record yes on this item, the child must have looked up at your face around the time of pointing.
    5. Can the child build a tower of bricks? (If so, how many?) (Number of bricks…)
    6. * Indicates critical question most indicative of autistic characteristic



Organization for Autism Research
Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
Aspergers Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association
Autism Speaks




8 Tips to Help Make the Winter Break More Successful for Your Child With Autism and the Entire Family  

Looking forward to winter break in February? NSSA’s Director of Clinical Services, Jayne Eaton Bove, recommends tips for parents of children with autism to make program breaks more successful.

1.    Plan ahead.  Children with autism do best when their days are structured.  Do your research well in advance and look for programs that may be available for your child to attend when their school or day program are not in session.  In addition, find places and activities that they may enjoy and put them on the calendar well in advance.  Planning ahead avoids last minute chaos and allows time to review the calendar and prepare your child ahead of time.

2.    Maintain and follow through on any systems already being used in the home (i.e., behavior intervention plans, use of token systems, choice boards, etc.). Continuity is key, without it confusion and frustration can quickly build.

3.    Prior to a vacation period, and whenever possible, schedule time to meet with and observe the professionals working directly with your child. Watch them implementing goals and working through challenging behaviors.  It’s an invaluable resource for you to learn and empower yourself to do the same.

4.    Ask your child’s team to help you find ways to generalize and maintain the skills your child has already learned into your daily family life.   (i.e., food shopping, movies, running errands, household chores etc.).  By doing this you will not only make these skills more functional for your child but also keep them engaged in activities throughout each day.

5.    Be prepared.  Always have reinforcers at hand wherever you may be.  Don’t miss any opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior and reward the use of emerging skills.  Just because your child’s program is not in session doesn’t mean there aren’t an infinite number of opportunities for them to learn throughout each day.

6.    Be mentally prepared – know your child’s limits and know what you want to reinforce.  Prior to going out, think about what your child is already capable of doing and don’t put them in situations that exceed that limit.  For example, if your child is capable of waiting successfully for 10 minutes, don’t go to a restaurant that has a 30-minute wait for a table (even if it is their favorite place to eat).  And if you do, bring an activity they can enjoy while waiting and remember to reinforce frequently for waiting appropriately along the way.  Don’t wait until your child is having a meltdown to offer something preferred to them.  You are only reinforcing the melt down and increasing the likelihood of your child having another one the next time you are in a similar situation.

7.    Set reasonable goals and expectations! When deciding what to reinforce your child for, look at what they have already been able to demonstrate and prompt them to give you just a little more, but not too much.  You don’t want to set your child and yourself up for failure.  For example, when eating dinner at the table, don’t have them sit for an hour if your child has in the past only been able to sit for 15 minutes.  Push a little past 15 minutes and reinforce the progress!

8.    Catch your child being good! As parents we tend to pay more attention to our children when they are doing something inappropriate than when they are behaving appropriately. Make it a priority to reinforce the “good” behavior frequently and with something meaningful paired with praise (not every child is reinforced by praise alone).  You’ll be sending a clear message that being “good” really pays off.  (published Feb. 7, 2018)