Autism Spectrum Disorders

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? What does it mean if a child is “on the spectrum”? Can autism be treated? Will my child always have it? What supports can help our family?

While there’s currently no “cure” for ASD, our understanding is evolving rapidly. Early diagnosis and therapy can be very helpful in helping children with ASD gain new skills.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

ASD is a complex disorder of very early brain development that is approximately four times more common in boys than girls. Different children can be affected in very different ways, ranging from mild to severe, but they share two main categories of symptoms:

  • Difficulty with social communication and social interactions
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted or unusual interests, including sensory symptoms such as heightened sensitivity to noise, touch or smell.

ASD was previously recognized as several separate disorders, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s disorder. Based on their shared symptoms, these were merged under a single ASD diagnosis with the May 2013 publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

Does my child have autism?

ASD is currently diagnosed through close observation of the child’s symptoms and development. Autism Spectrum Disorders symptoms typically appear early in your child’s development, and many parents may notice subtle signs even during infancy. Some children also have language impairment, intellectual disability or genetic conditions that include other kinds of symptoms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies and toddlers be screened for ASD and other developmental issues at their regular check-ups. But if you suspect you have a child with ASD, or have any concern about your child’s behavior or development—at any age—don’t wait for a check-up. Bring it up with your primary care provider. Trust your instincts.

Why choose Boston Children’s Hospital?

The Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s has a breadth and depth matched by few other medical centers. By bringing together a wide range of specialists, we can customize care to each child’s and family’s particular needs. Our providers have expertise in developmental behavioral pediatrics, child neurology, neurodevelopmental disabilities, psychology, psychiatry, speech and language and genetics. The Autism Language Program in the Center for Communication Enhancement is a specialized program for children with ASD and offers the latest technological innovations.

Our team provides diagnostic services, in-depth assessments, close follow-up and ongoing support, seeking to match your child with the behavioral therapies and teaching approaches that best fit her needs. As your child grows up, we may make new recommendations for therapy, while keeping an eye out for any related medical concerns.

Our clinicians work in Boston at the Longwood campus and the Boston Children’s satellite locations. Our dedicated resource specialists can help you connect with services in your local community.

We also maintain a very active ASD research and innovation program. As new discoveries are made, we work to translate what we learn into new, effective methods for diagnosis and treatment. We’ve also pioneered many apps to help children communicate and learn.

Autism Spectrum Center clinicians use TriVox Health to monitor your child's developmental progress with questionnaires designed for children with ASD. TriVox Health is an easy-to-use, secure online system for caregivers, teachers, and therapists to share information with your child's clinicians at Boston Children's. This helps clinicians provide comprehensive care for your child. For more information and to enroll in the system, view the ASC TriVox Health information sheet.

Contact Us

The Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s is best reached through our Call Center.

Boston Children's Hospital
Autism Spectrum Center
Call Center:  617-355-7493
Fax: 617-730-4823

Our coordinator will make the first available appointment based on an intake process that considers your child’s specific needs. For example, children who also have seizures may be directed to a neurologist within the Center, while children with speech, language and communication difficulties may be referred to our Autism Language Program, part of the Center for Communication Enhancement.

Appointments are available in Boston and at many Boston Children’s satellite locations to provide you and your child with care closer to home. The Call Center can help direct you.