What is the history of Autism?

In 1943, psychiatrist Leo Kanner observed 11 children who he described as having a desire for sameness and social withdrawal. He also claimed these children had speech and language problems, particularly speech delays and echoing mechanisms.

Kanner used the word “autistic” to describe the characteristics of these children who seemed not to posses an ability to relate to people.

Why does autism occur?

There is no definite answer as to why autism occurs. Most researchers believe, however, that biological conditions such as genetic disruptions, neurological damage and biochemical imbalances are the most likely source for the condition.

What does a diagnosis of autism mean?

As described by the DSM-V, the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder falls under a broad category of neurodevelopmental disorders. An autism spectrum disorder can be classified on three separate levels based on the level of severity. Here is a brief overview of each level:

Level 3: “Requiring very substantial support”

Individuals with level 3 autism spectrum disorder experience severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills which cause severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiation of social interaction, and minimal response to social advances of others. Individuals will often experience the following behaviors:

  • Inflexibility in behavior
  • Extreme difficulty coping with change
  • Restrictive/repetitive behaviors which interfere with functioning
  •  Great distress/difficulty in changing focus or action

Level 2: “Requiring substantial support”

Individuals with level 2 autism spectrum disorder experience marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. Their social impairments are apparent even with supports in place. These individuals rarely initiate social interactions and experience reduced or abnormal responses to social advances of others. Individuals will often experience the following behaviors:

  • Inflexibility of behavior
  • Difficulty coping with change
  • Restricted/repetitive behaviors which are obvious to the causal observer and interfere with functioning in a variety of contexts
  •  Some distress/difficulty in changing focus or action

Level 1: “Requiring support”

Individuals with level 1 autism spectrum disorder experience deficits in social communication which causes noticeable impairments when supports are not present. These individuals often find it difficult to initiate social interactions and demonstrate atypical or unsuccessful responses to social advances of others. Individuals may appear to have a decreased interest in social interactions. Individuals will often experience the following behaviors:

  • Inflexibility in behavior which causes significant interference with functioning in one or more context
  • Difficulty switching between activities
  • Problems with organization and planning which hinder independence

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

What are some specific characteristics of autism?

Specific characteristics of autism include:

Language Impairments: Researchers believe that speech and language impairments are the most significant problems in individuals with autism. These individuals may not be able to use correct speech sounds or make any sounds at all. They also may not have the ability to communicate with others. That is, they may not understand what others say and/or they may not be able to use words to speak to others. These individuals also may repeat what others say (i.e., echolalia) or use words that others don’t understand. They may also exhibit poor non-verbal behaviors such as eye contact, body language, and facial expressions.

Social Impairments: Autistic individuals may have difficulty relating to others and developing relationships. They may prefer to be alone and sometimes act as if they don’t realize the presence of other people. They may also interact with others in socially inappropriate ways such as touching their ears, licking, or asking repetitive questions.

Some individuals may not be able to read others’ emotions or they may display socially inappropriate emotions (e.g., laughing when someone gets hurt).

Typically, autistic children have difficulty playing appropriately, which is important to developing social skills needed for adolescence and adulthood.

Restrictive, Repetitive, and Stereotypical Behavioral Patterns, Interests, and Activities: Autistic children may engage in self-stimulatory behavior like repetitive body movements (e.g., body rocking, object twirling, light reflection, and hand flapping).

Autistic individuals also may be preoccupied with specific activities or objects and may engage in activity sequences that are not functional.

Sensory Processing Difficulties: Autistic individuals may have difficulty responding to sensations. For example, bright lights, loud sounds, or certain smells may cause distress. They also may experience pain or discomfort when touched or exposed to specific textures.

Some individuals may also have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. For example, they may have difficulty holding a pencil or their body movements may seem awkward or clumsy.

Difficulty Responding to Environmental Change: A very common characteristic in individuals with autism is their insistence that their environment and routines remain the same. For example, using a different door to exit the school may cause distress.

Autistic individuals may also be attached to certain objects and will have difficulty when those objects are removed. They may require the use of specific objects or locations for engaging in certain activities. For example, a child may need to use the same cup from which to drink, every day.

Cognitive Delays: Individuals with autism may or may not display cognitive deficits. Difficulty arises due to the fact that individuals with autism may all learn differently, and deciphering best teaching methods may be a long process.

How can I help treat my child’s autism?

There are many different treatment approaches for children with autism. Some of them include:

    • Direct Therapy (i.e., Speech, Occupational, and Applied Behavior Analysis)Schedule Your Visit at Chicago's Autism Clinic
    • Medication
    • Dietary InterventionsVitamins and Minerals


  • Animal Therapy
  • Music and Art Therapy
  • Immune Globulin Therapy
  • Secretin Injections
  • Chelation Therapy
  • Auditory integration training (AIT)

Our Approach at North Shore Pediatric Therapy

At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we use a multi-disciplinary approach for the treatment of autism. Our speech and occupational therapists and applied behavior analysts work together to assess your child’s needs. The team develops individualized objectives and determines the setting in which your child will be most successful.

We use evidence-based treatment approaches to increase the following skills:

  • Speech and language
  • Gross and fine motor
  • Daily living
  • Social
  • Community
  • Classroom and group