Autism Resource Center

This Resource Center was made possible by a grant from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's Campaign for America's Kids (CFAK).

Last updated February 2017


Autism Resource Center Image

Autism is a condition which is usually diagnosed before a child is three. Autistic children have delayed speech or no speech at all, problems interacting socially, limited interests and odd or repetitive behaviors. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by abnormal brain development and functioning. Many children with autism also have an intellectual disability.

Finding the right treatment plan can be challenging because every child is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Often parents have their child tested for hearing problems because their child does not respond to conversation or commands. They may also show strange or difficult to manage behaviors. Early detection and getting the right educational, medical, behavioral, and supportive services can improve the functioning and long-term outlook of children with autism.

Choose a topic:

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is autism?
  2. What are early signs of autism?
  3. What are some symptoms of autism that parents and caregivers can look for?
  4. What is the difference between autism and Asperger’s disorder?
  5. Are there treatments available for autism?
  6. Are there medication treatments for autism?
  7. Why do children with autism have difficulty learning in a regular classroom setting?
  8. What is the difference between autism and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD, NOS)?

Featured Expert Response to Frequently Asked Questions
When Should a Parent Consider Medication for their Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

FAQs for Families: Autism and DSM-5

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Facts for Families

AACAP's Facts for Families were developed to provide concise and up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families.

The Child with Autism

Asperger's Disorder

Self Injury in Adolescents

Children with an Intellectual Disability

Services in School for Children with Special Needs: What Parents Need to Know

Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I - How Medications are Used

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Video Clips

Autism - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology
This video is for well-educated patients and explores the characteristics and spectrum of autism as defined by DSM. It is explained in plain language that is understandable by those without a science background, but is more in depth and detailed than other videos.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
This video is for parents who want information presented in salient bullet points. The narrator explains each bullet point in a concise, yet expository manner to educate the listener. One issue is that the narrator talks about "savants" while not emphasizing the rarity of this phenomenon, possibly leading to false expectations.

Sesame Street: Meet Julia
This is a Sesame Street video introducing an autistic character for the first time. Through the interaction of the characters with Julia, the autistic character, children are able to learn about the characteristics of autistic patients. Especially important for children is the delicate yet straightforward discussion of social behaviors in autistic children. One concern was that compared to the advanced speech of the other characters, Julia seems significantly less developed, and may give a poor impression of the learning capabilities of autistic children.

Autism - What we know (and what we don't know yet)
This video is an advanced explanation of the genetic and risk factors predisposing to autism. While may be appropriate for parents who want to learn more about the disease for intellectual pursuits, it will not contribute much understanding to children or families about how to approach the social and intellectual differences in children with autism.

What is Autism
This brief video produced by Texas Children's Hospital is a great resource for parents and children to watch and learn together. It provides information to help parents learn basic information about managing autistic children in an animated format that is engaging and easy to explain to children. It presents the symptoms of autism as though they were the thoughts of an autistic patient in normal, everyday language.

Marvelous Max - Autism Awareness for Kids
This animated video for school-aged children explains how Max, an autistic child, behaves differently in a social school setting from other children. It describes the different educational needs of autistic children, and presents unusual social characteristics in a positive light.

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Clinical Resources

Practice Parameters

Considered resources for experts, mental health professional and physicians, AACAP's practice parameters were developed to guide clinical decision making. They show the best treatments and the range of treatment options available to families living with childhood and adolescent mental illness.

Practice Parameters For The Assessment And Treatment Of Children, Adolescents, And Adults With Autism And Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with mental retardation and comorbid mental disorders.

Lifelong Learning Modules

Additional Clinical Resources

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Medication Guide

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Research and Training

Prospective Longitudinal Studies of Infant Siblings of Children With Autism: Lessons Learned and Future Directions
Peter Szatmari, Katarzyna Chawarska, Geraldine Dawson, et. al.
JAACAP 2016 March;55(3) 179-187

Weight Gain and Metabolic Consequences of Risperidone in Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Carla A. Mazefsky, Ph.D., John Herrington, Ph.D., Matthew Siegel, M.D., et. al.
JAACAP 2016 March 7

Psychiatric Hospitalization of Children With Autism or Intellectual Disability: Consensus Statements on Best Practices
Lawrence Scahill, Sangchoon Jeon, Susan J. Boorin, et. al.
JAACAP 2015 Dec;54(12) 969-971.

The Role of Emotion Regulation in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Kelly McGuire, Craig Erickson, Robin L. Gabriels, et. al.
JAACAP 2013 July;52(7) 679-688

Early Behavioral Intervention Is Associated With Normalized Brain Activity in Young Children With Autism
Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Emily J.H. Jones, Ph.D., Kristen Merkle, B.S., et. al.
JAACAP 2012 Nov;51(11) 1150-1159.

Are Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Different Manifestations of One Overarching Disorder? Cognitive and Symptom Evidence From a Clinical and Population-Based Sample
Jolanda M.J. van der Meer, M.Sc., Anoek M. Oerlemans, M.Sc., et. al.
JAACAP 2012 Nov;51(11) 1160-1172.

Research Units of Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPP) Autism Network Randomized Clinical Trial of Parent Training and Medication: One-Year Follow-Up
L. Eugene Arnold, M.D., M.Ed., Michael G. Aman, Ph.D., Xiaobai Li, Ph.D., et. al.
JAACAP 2012 Nov;51(11) 1173-1184.

Effects of Risperidone and Parent Training on Adaptive Functioning in Children With Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Serious Behavioral Problems
Lawrence Scahill, M.S.N., Ph.D., Christopher J. McDougle, M.D., et. al.
JAACAP 2012 Feb;51(2) 136-146.

Sensitivity and Specificity of Proposed DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder
James C. McPartland, Ph.D., Brian Reichow, Ph.D., Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.
JAACAP 2012 April;51(4) 363-383.

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AACAP's publications, Your Child and Your Adolescent, offer accessible, comprehensive information about the emotional development and behavior of children from infancy through the teenage years.

Look Me in the Eye
John Elder Robinson

I Am Utterly Unique
Elaine Marie Larson

Little Rainman
Karen L. Simmons

Nobody Nowhere
Donna William

A Special Book About Me
Josie Santomauro

What it is to be me! An Asperger Kid Book
Angela Wine

Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A user guide to Adolescense
Luke Jackson

For more bibliotherapy resources, visit Living with Mental Illness: Books, Stories and Memoirs.

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Getting Help

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder
Getting help is the most important thing that parents can do for children and adolescents with autism. Parents should try to find a mental health professional who has advanced training and experience with evaluating and treating children, adolescents, and families. It is important to find a comfortable match between your child, your family, and the mental health professional.

A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and, treatment of disorders of thinking, feeling and behavior that affect children, adolescents, and their families. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school, at least three years of residency training in medicine, neurology, or general psychiatry with adults, and two years of additional training in psychiatric work with children, adolescents, and their families.

Click here to find a child and adolescent psychiatrist in your area.

Autism Resource ImageBear in mind that because of the extensive training required, there is a nationwide shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. To learn more about other mental health professionals and places families can find help, read to Find Help For Your Child.

Autism Society of America's Source Directory
Find local providers and services for families living with autism through the Autism Society of America's (ASA) source directory.

The ASA is the nation's leading grassroots autism organization and exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism.

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Other Links

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