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Autism FAQs

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental and neurological disability that causes impairments in social communication and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with ASD can learn, communicate, and socialize, but often do so in ways that are different from others. These differences can be a strength for the individual but they can also create challenges that require additional support.

While the range of autism is broad and the term means something different to everyone, it is still important to understand the clinical definition so children can be properly diagnosed and have the option to receive additional services that can help them reach their true potential. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological, developmental disorder that can cause social, communication and repetitive and rigid behavior challenges.

The Center for Disease Control reports that as of 2021, 1 in 44 children in the United States has an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

At what age does Autism appear?

Early signs of autism involve differences in development in certain behavioral, emotional, and cognitive areas. There are more remarkable development milestones in young children, so characteristics of autism can present as early as 12 to 18 months of age, sometimes earlier.

What are the Signs of Autism?

General Signs and Characteristics of Autism

  • Avoiding physical touch
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Exhibiting delayed speech and communication skills
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as body rocking, grunting, or hand-flapping
  • Struggling to understand other people’s emotions
  • Getting frustrated over minor changes
  • Having unusual reactions to a particular sound, taste, sight, touch, and smell
  • Exhibiting obsessive or hyper-focused behavior on specific or a minimal range of topics, interests, or objects

Signs of Autism in Babies (Up Until One Year Old)

  • Not babbling by four-months-old
  • Not smiling by five-months-old
  • Not laughing or giggling by six-months-old
  • No interest in games like peek-a-boo by eight-months-old
  • Not looking towards objects pointed out by others by 12 months old
  • Not responding to their name by 12 months old
  • Becoming upset by loud noises
  • Content playing alone for long periods

Autistic Characteristics in Toddlers (One to Two Years Old)

  • Not pointing at distant objects by 14 months old
  • Not developing language skills (e.g., a one-year-old saying “mama” or “dada”)
  • Speaking one word at a time and not in phrases or sentences
  • Repeating words or actions over and over and over
  • Engaging in repetitive behavior
  • Lacking interest in being around other children or playing social games
  • Not mimicking others or pretend playing

Autistic Characteristics in Young Children (Three to Five Years Old)

  • Engaging in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands, rocking, or twirling
  • Fixating on one specific toy or object
  • Having frequent tantrums or meltdowns
  • Expressing little to no emotions
  • Not appearing attached to parents
  • Difficulty interpreting emotions and facial expressions in others
  • Lacking interest in being around other children or playing social games
  • Repeating others’ or their own words or phrases repeatedly
  • Not developing language skills/being nonverbal
  • Exhibiting physically aggressive behavior towards self or others (e.g., hitting others, banging their head on a wall, picking their own skin, etc.)
  • Difficulty with toilet training

Autistic Characteristics in Older Children and Adolescents (Six to 19 Years Old)

  • Exhibiting obsessive or hyper-focused behavior on specific topics
  • Not making eye contact
  • Sticking to routines, rituals, and rules
  • Avoiding or disliking physical contact
  • Having difficulty identifying emotions in others or themselves
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors
  • Having difficulty in social settings/social interactions
  • Preferring to be alone
  • Exhibiting unusual sleep patterns
  • Using formal language rather than the slang of their peers
  • Strictly preferring specific foods, clothes, or objects

Other Autistic Characteristics

  • Being non-vocal or non-speaking
  • Exhibiting physically aggressive behavior towards self or others (e.g., hitting others, banging own head on a wall, picking at own skin, etc.)
  • Becoming intensely distressed in response to changes in routine
  • Engaging in repetitive behavior such as rocking, flapping hands, or twirling
  • Strictly preferring specific foods, clothes, or objects
  • Sensitivity to foods and potential co-occurring medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal challenges
  • Sticking to routines, rituals, and rules
  • Needing assistance with everyday living (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating, etc.)

How does Autism Develop?

There’s a misunderstanding that autism can develop during childhood or even later in life. In reality, autism doesn’t develop at a certain age; it’s something you’re born with. That said, autism can go unnoticed, with some individuals not receiving a diagnosis until their late teens or early adulthood.

The science and medical community widely agree that autism comes from a difference in brain structure and function. While there’s no way to determine if your child will have autism prior to birth, scientists and doctors believe there are several factors that increase likelihood of autism, including:


A family history of autism, especially already having one child with autism, can significantly increase the chances of another child having the disorder.


According to the CDC, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Of course, this doesn’t mean having a baby boy assures an autism diagnosis, but it does increase the overall risk.

Parents’ Ages

Multiple studies have pointed to an increased risk of a child having autism when conceived by older parents. However, it isn’t by much, with a 2017 study calculating that parents in their 40s have a 1.58 percent chance of their child having autism and parents in their 20s only with a 1.5 percent chance.

It’s hypothesized that this increased risk comes from the greater amount of spontaneous mutations that older men can pass on to their children.

Additional Health Concerns

The possibility of a child having autism increases when they also have corresponding health complications or disorders, including:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Immune system problems
  • Down syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Rett syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Stomach and intestinal problems
  • Inherited anxiety and depression

Pre-Mature Birth

Babies born very early, specifically before 26 weeks of pregnancy, have a greater risk of having autism due to developmental disruptions.

How do children with Autism learn best?

Phoenix Autism Center’s Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program focuses on target learning areas by helping your child succeed and grow through different technology strategies.

Because autistic children think and interact differently than their peers, they may need support and tools to achieve their unique goals. This includes going at their pace and figuring out their preferred learning methods.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment approach that target’s your child’s pivotal areas of development, including self-management, motivation, initiation of social interactions, and responding to multiple language cues. PRT relies heavily on the motivation of the child to guide the activities of the session and uses natural reinforcement. PRT sessions that are well-run will make it appear like the child is playing. Ex: the ‘reward” for a child who makes a meaningful attempt to ask for a toy is that he or she gets to play with it.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a highly structured method of teaching where each skill is broken down into smaller “discrete” components to help a child learn a skill. DTT is often associated with doing skills one by one at a table. As the child learns each skill, sessions are also conducted in more natural contexts to work on generalization (the ability to apply a skill in different environments). Each smaller step is taught in an intensive and systematic manner using consistent arbitrary reinforcement. For a child, this might include a cookie or a small toy.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most notable behavioral intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA is a therapy built around the process of behavior change using reinforcement strategies to both increase and decrease targeted behavior while working to improve socialization, learning skills, communication, and other developmental milestones.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered the best practice for the treatment of autism and serves as a foundation for all the services provided by Phoenix Autism Center.

ABA has been shown to minimize the deficits associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and improve the quality of life of individuals with ASD and their families. Through various peer-reviewed studies, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has become the standard of care for the early intervention treatment of ASD. This is all done in a safe, ethical manner backed by decades of thorough research.

ABA is also used successfully with other childhood diagnoses as well as typically developing children and adults. Research has shown that broadening the scope of ABA beyond the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder increases collaboration with other professionals and yields positive results (Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007; Ross, 2007).

The objective of each ABA session is to work towards mastery of each objective listed on the individualized treatment plan.

Behavior analysis helps us to understand:
How behavior works
How behavior is affected by the environment
How learning takes place

(Sited From

How Does ABA Therapy Work?

Applied Behavior Analysis involves many techniques for understanding and changing behavior. These can range from positive reinforcement, and/or antecedent, behavior, and consequence (A-B-C’s).

Positive Reinforcement is a popular strategy used in ABA. When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a reward), a person is more likely to repeat that behavior. Over time, this encourages positive behavior change.

Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence

A – Antecedents: Antecedents are events that occur before a behavior.

B – Behavior: Behavior is an observable and measurable action. Behavior does not refer to challenging behavior only. For example, eating, yelling, and smiling are all behaviors.

C – Consequences: Consequences are events that follow a behavior. Consequences can be negative or positive.

The strength of ABA comes in its ability to reinforce positive human behaviors. It’s also easily adaptable to each individual, catering to their unique needs. There isn’t just one specific situation or diagnosis that benefits from ABA therapy.

Is ABA Therapy Only For Autism?

ABA is not just for individuals with autism, though in your research on ABA therapy, you’ve probably noticed that its primary use is to teach and assist in the development of children with Autism. ABA is also used to help with other disorders as well. ABA therapy’s behavioral interventions can help treat various cognitive and behavioral disorders. This type of therapy uses techniques to asses, analyze and treat any behavioral excess or deficit. ABA is the science of teaching and learning and these therapy principles can help children and adults integrate into their environments.

What Does An ABA Therapist Do?

An ABA therapist is there to help your child with development and learning. But the therapist needs to make the environment positive, fun, and reinforcing.

Each therapy session will typically start with the therapist going through a pairing phase with the child. This includes pairing themselves with reinforcers so the child sees them as a “giver of fun things.” The pairing process is critical to creating that connection and trust between the therapist and your child. The goal is to “pair” an action, or learning objective, with a reinforcing item or action.

The therapist will also need to find out what the child is motivated by as reinforcers can vary from session to session, so doing this at the beginning is key.

The therapist will also intertwine play with teaching moments. It’s crucial to keep learning engaging for the child, so introducing moments of play and interaction is essential to a successful session. Our team at Phoenix Autism Center will work with your child several hours per week, practicing play and encouraging concepts like socialization and creativity.

During a session, the therapist utilizes a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan to address your child’s specific needs. Our team at Phoenix Autism Center will choose the goals that directly meet the deficits displayed in the assessment.

The ABA therapist will collect data throughout the session with your child. This data can include:

  • Correct and incorrect responses during programs
  • Frequency and duration of behaviors
  • Instances of communication
  • Prompts needed to complete the skill, among other things

Our team will then graph this data, allowing the BCBA to analyze your childs progress or lack thereof. This readily available data allows for any changes if and when necessary to increase the growth and progress of your child.

What are Individualized Treatment Plans?

After a clinical assessment is conducted, individualized treatment plans are created to meet the specific needs of each child. There is not a “one size fits all” approach to ABA Therapy – each plan is developed with the individual goals for that child and their family. Our policy actively includes family members in the planning and delivery of all services provided. We provide collaborative ABA therapy that focuses on support and guidance for all members of your family.

Whether you realize it or not, you and everyone around you use the basic science of ABA. We are all connected to and influenced by our environment. It shapes our behavior through our positive and negative experiences and reactions.

Does Insurance Cover ABA Therapy?

Most insurance providers cover ABA therapy. Please contact your insurance company for more information, as your insurance plan will dictate what coverage you have. Tremendous strides have brought awareness and development progress to ABA therapy. Because of this all 50 states now mandate coverage for ABA.

Our team at Phoenix Autism Center is here to help you through the insurance process and we will answer any questions you have along the way.

What Is The Importance Of Early Intervention?

Ultimately, the faster you identify whether your child has autism, the faster you can introduce your child to interventions intended to lay the foundation for a more fulfilling life for everyone in your family.

It is said that the brain develops the fastest within the first 7 years of life, making early intervention ABA therapy crucial at a young age. This is the time to take advantage of your child growing from the standpoint of language development, as well as building on other skills.

With ABA therapy, early identification and early intensive behavioral interventions are key to working on any behaviors that may hold them back from their full potential in the future.

a family reads together on the floor

Support for Autism Spectrum Disorder at Phoenix Autism Center

Phoenix Autism Center offers specialized, evidence-based early intervention ABA therapy programs for children aged 18 months to 6 years old. We provide services that support our clients and their families with the goal of living autonomous and authentic lives in their own communities. Our team works closely with parents to keep them in the loop and provide evidence of ongoing success.

Please contact us today for more information about our programs, to schedule a tour, and how to get started!