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Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, language and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today.

We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Indicators of autism can appear as early as 10-12 months with reliable diagnosis typically possible by age two. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four distinct autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. 

Learn more about the signs of autism and autism "red flags".

Three Levels of Severity

There are three levels of severity, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – this is the criteria with which a doctor would make a diagnosis. 


"Requiring Support"

Difficulty initiating social interactions, and clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful response to social overtures of others. May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions. For example, a person who is able to speak in full sentences and engages in communication but whose to- and-fro conversation with others fails, and whose attempts to make friends are odd and typically unsuccessful. Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments.


"requiring substantial support"

Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills; social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation of social interactions; and reduced or  abnormal responses to social overtures from others. For example, a person who speaks simple sentences, whose interaction is limited  to narrow special interests, and how has markedly odd nonverbal communication.


"Requiring very substantial support"

Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills cause severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiation of social interactions, and minimal response to social overtures from others. For example, a person with few words of intelligible speech who rarely initiates interaction and, when he or she does, makes unusual approaches to meet needs only and responds to only very direct social approaches

Getting a diagnosis

Understanding the nuances between behaviors is difficult, even when you know your child well.  Often times, parents and loved ones will call Blue Stars Therapy for guidance. We can help you understand the process and what to expect, although we can not and do not provide a diagnosis. Below are locations where you can receive a diagnosis in the St. Louis Metro Area, though if you aren't ready for that step, we are happy to provide our professional opinion – feel free to contact us.


Still deciphering information? Feel free to check out our Resources or the MCHAT parent screening tool, which can be taken to your pediatrician.

For a diagnosis, call one of the certified autism centers in Missouri:

  • Mercy Kids Autism Center: 314.872.3345

  • Washington University Autism Center: 314.286.1700

  • Knights of Columbus Developmental Center: 314.577.5609

  • Thompson Center for Neurological Disorders: 573.884.6052


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