Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What is Autism?

By: Melissa K. Burkhardt, M.S. Ed, BCBA
Certified Early Start Denver Model Therapist and Autism Specialist 

It is an honor to guest blog for Choosy Kids this month since April is Autism Awareness Month.

Autism is so prevalent in today’s society that if you do not personally know someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or know a family that is being touched by a child with ASD, statistics tell us that you probably will soon.

You may ask, exactly what is autism? ASD refers to a complex group of developmental disorders of the brain. Symptoms appear before age three and reflect delayed or abnormal development in language, social skills, and repetitive or restricted behavior. According to a study released in March of 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in every 68 children has been identified with ASD.

The CDC report also shows that most children with ASD are diagnosed after age four, although ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Many parents report that they “knew something was not right” with their child as early as a few months old. Research has shown that early detection and intervention are the most powerful tools in helping children with ASD to reach their greatest potential. This is where my passion lies – reaching out and working with toddlers and their families to maximize their learning ability so they can develop to their highest capability!

It is important to realize that children with ASD are each very unique and have an extremely wide range of functioning levels. Mildly affected children may have average to above-average academic skills but lack social reciprocity and are unable to have developmentally appropriate relationships. They are often experts on one subject and may only want to speak about this subject despite the obvious disinterest of others. Conversely, severely affected children may have little-to-no functional language, other developmental delays, and few social skills. They often have severe sensory processing disorder (SPD) which can result in repetitive, intense behaviors.

Early Red Flags of Autism
  • By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions
  • By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions
  • By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving; lack of response to name; and, no babbling or “baby talk”
  • By 16 months: No spoken words
  • By 18 months: No play of “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that do not involve imitating or repeating
  • At any age, any loss of: speech, babbling, or social skills
Reference – www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html 

A person with ASD might:
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings, or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
After reading the signs of autism listed in the red flags list above, if you suspect your child may have ASD, or a developmental delay, you can ask your pediatrician for a screening. You can complete the same screening most pediatricians use and receive possible at-risk scores right now by going to https://www.m-chat.org/index.php. If your child is under the age of three, you can call 1-800-CDC-INFO to find the phone number for your state’s early intervention program, or visit www.cdc.gov/Concerned. If your child is age three or older, contact your local elementary school and ask to speak to someone about having your child evaluated, even if your child does not go to that school. Your child may be eligible for early intervention services at no charge.

During Autism Awareness Month in 2015, I conducted a webinar, “Autism in Early Childhood: Evidence-Based Practices” for Hatch Early Learning that is available free of charge. On April 21, 2016, I will be conducting another free webinar for Hatch on Autism and Friendship. Click here to register. Another resource is the award-winning book I authored, Exceptionally Good Friends: Building Relationships with Autism, told from two points of view. One from the point-of-view of a neuro-typical child about her friend with autism. Flip the book over for the same events told from the point-of-view of a child with autism. The reader (both adults and children) gains empathy and understanding as he/she receives a glimpse into the world of autism. Evidence-based practices and resources are included in the middle of the story that relate back to the child with autism’s story.

Please share this very important information and resources about autism with others so that all children with autism and their families can receive the support and help they need. If anyone would like to inquire about autism consultation services, Melissa can be reached at Melissa@earlystartautism.com or to learn more about evidence-based early intervention visit EarlyStartAutism.com.

About the Author: Melissa K. Burkhardt, M.S. Ed., BCBA, is Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) specializing in the earliest of intervention in autism. As of 2016, Melissa is one of 265 certified Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) providers worldwide, trained in a therapy specifically designed for 12-48 month old children diagnosed with autism. She is the author of the award-winning book, Exceptionally Good Friends: Building Relationships with Autism recipient of the Autism Society’s, “2015 Dr. Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year” and the Mom’s Choice Award. As a certified Special Education Early Intervention Teacher, she taught in the public school system for 20 years where she helped to pioneer a fully inclusive pre-k program in her school district.

Melissa specializes in private therapy providing very early intervention for children with autism and parental coaching to achieve best outcomes in a child’s life. She shares her extensive knowledge about autism through public speaking, coaching, program development, and preparing specialized presentations for individuals, groups, and corporations.

Melissa has learned from experience that early intervention takes advantage of the brain’s neural plasticity and is essential in helping a child with autism spectrum disorder to achieve success in developing to their full capacity.

Melissa can be reached at Melissa@earlystartautism.com.


  1. Thank you for this. So many people don't know what autism is, so this will definitely help.

  2. I have to agree. Not everyone understands what Autism is nor how it affects people.

    Passing it along


  3. Thank you for bringing more awareness to Autism. We can continue to help if we continue to learn!

    1. I love this! Thank you for stopping by.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this! I plan to do a blog serious soon on Adhd, Autism and a couple others!! Feel free to visit wwww.heathersheavenblog.com

  5. Thank you for sharing. We all need to be aware of kids needs. I had to convince the doctor that my son was hard of hearing. We as parents know things are not right.

  6. Hey Melissa,

    It must be a sinking feeling for a parent to feel there is something not quiet right with they little miracle. Yet unsure. Such a confusing time.

    Awareness on autism is essential especially when you point out the 1 in every 68 children will have autism. The more info we have the better parents are able to assist their child's development. Thanks for this post.


  7. My nephew has autism. He was diagnosed around 2 years old. With therapies, he has made such amazing strides. He is one of the smartest little 4 year olds I know; I'm waiting for him to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. lol.
    He still struggles with behavioral and social issues, which can be a challenge for my sister, but luckily he has great parents to work hard to help him.

  8. thanks for sharing so much useful information that is what we need to continue to do is bring awareness to autism

  9. This information helps a lot. I wouldn't know exactly what to look for since some of the symptoms are so subtle.

  10. Great info!!! Honestly autism is so broad that I have never met two people on the spectrum that are similar. Thanks for raising awareness:):)

  11. Thank you for sharing. It is important that parents recognize the signs as early intervention is key for helping with future development.

  12. This is great info on Autism and how to spot symptoms and get an early diagnosis. Great post!

  13. It's good that we have a month dedicated to raising awareness about autism, as a parent, it can be very difficult to admit that your child may be experiencing these symptoms.

  14. Very good information for everyone to know. Especially good information for anyone around children.

  15. Very good information for everyone to know. Especially good information for anyone around children.

  16. This is comprehensive information on Autism. Some I did not know. Every parents should read this blog post.

  17. Good comprehensive information about Autism. A must read for everyone in order to understand it more. Will share this with my friends.

  18. Great post, not very people are aware, myself included of the signs and I think its a great way to bring awareness.

  19. Wow, what a great information article. Not a lot of people know the details of Autism. I currently work with a couple of troubled youth who have Autism.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing this. A lot of people don't know what Autism is or signs of it.

  21. This is great info. I know a couple of people with Autism. When I heard how much more prevalent it was in boys, I watched my son really closely. This is a great list of what to look for.

  22. This is really good information and helps raise awareness about what Autism really is and how to recognize symptoms early on. There are a lot of details that most people are unaware of.

  23. Hi, Melissa/Christy

    It is very heart broken for a parent that don't know how to interact with the child because they live in his own world.

    I have a Facebook friend who has autisic child. I can feel the sadness in her heart.

    The information does provide help for many of us.



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