Child with Dr. Spanier

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a childhood developmental disorder that affects the brain's healthy development in communication skills, personal relationships and behavior.

ASD is called a wide-spectrum disorder because each child has different symptoms.

They range from mild to severe and can change over time.

Autism can begin before the age of three and lasts throughout a person's life, although symptoms may improve over time.

Autism Symptoms

Symptoms for autism spectrum disorder can range from mild to severe and can change as the child grows. No two autistic children are alike. Autism spectrum disorder symptoms can appear in the first few months after birth up to 24 months. What makes it even more difficult is that people who don't have ASD may have some of the same symptoms. We can divide autism symptoms into several categories.

General Signs

Children with ASD might:

  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Not play "pretend" games by 18 months, like feeding a doll
  • Not point at objects of interest by 14 months, such as an airplane
  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over


Autistic children have a range of communication skills. Some can communicate well; others might use language in unusual ways or be unable to speak in sentences. Examples include:

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Does not understand jokes, sarcasm or teasing
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions
  • Reverses pronouns, like using "you" instead of "I"
  • Talks in a flat, robot-like or sing-song voice


Children with autism spectrum disorder develop at different rates for different skills. The ability to walk may be normal, but language and social skills may lag. A child may be good with puzzles or computers but have trouble making friends. Because children develop at their own pace, it can be difficult to tell exactly when a child will learn a particular skill.

A lack of social skills is common for children and adults with autism. Examples include:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn't understand personal space boundaries
  • Doesn't understand the feelings of others
  • Has flat or inappropriate facial expressions
  • Is not comforted by others during distress

Unusual Interests and Behaviors

Children with ASD have unusual interests or behaviors such as:

  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Has to follow certain routines
  • Likes parts of objects, like the wheels of a toy car
  • Plays with toys the same way every time

Autism Test

There is no definitive test for autism spectrum disorder, like a blood test or MRI. Pediatric behavioral specialists at University of Maryland Children's Hospital make a diagnosis based on evaluation of a child's development and behavior.

This thorough review may include hearing and vision screening, genetic testing and neurological testing, and an interview with the parents. We may also play with the child during the exam to see how she or he learns, speaks, behaves and moves.

Autism Treatment

Although there is no cure for ASD, we use a combination of therapies that offer children with autism the best chance to use all of their abilities and skills. We offer autism treatments that include:

  • Behavioral management therapy
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Educational and school-based therapies
  • Joint attention therapy
  • Medication treatment
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Parent-mediated therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Speech-language therapy

Transitioning to Adult Care

While there is no cure for autism, we help people with autism develop strategies, goals and plans necessary to transition from childhood to adulthood.

Make an Appointment

Learn more or make an appointment with an autism specialist. Call 410-328-5887.