Understanding Autism

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.*


ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls. The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 40 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

More people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD. It is unclear exactly how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis, however a true increase in the number of people with an ASD cannot be ruled out.

In 2020, the CDC reported:

  • Autism affects 1 in 54 children nationally and 1 in 39 children in North Carolina
  • ASD is 4 times more common among boys than girls; 1 in 34 boys vs. 1 in 144 girls
  • More than 5.4 million American adults live with ASD


Many treatment options exist for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Though ASD can be hard to identify at an early age, when possible, early intervention therapies are widely agreed upon to be the most effective treatments.

Because so many different treatments and therapies exist, families are often times inundated by massive amounts of information. Understanding treatment options, and making informed decisions for your child, is critical.

To better understand the therapy used by St. Gerard House and why it is considered one of the most effective, please click here.

Impact & Cost

Greater than 50% of young adults (ages 18-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. (Shattuck et al., 2012)

In June 2014, only 19.3% of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9% were unemployed, meaning only 16.8% of the population with disabilities was employed. By contrast, 69.3% of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65% of the population without disabilities was employed. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014)

The Real Cost

  • Autism Costs a family $60,000 a year on average (Autism Speaks, 2014)
  • The cost of caring for Americans with autism had reached $268 billion in 2015 and would rise to $461 billion by 2025 in the absence of more-effective interventions and support across the life span. 
  • The majority of autism’s costs in the U.S. are for adult services – an estimated $175 to $196 billion a year, compared to $61 to $66 billion a year for children. 
  • On average, medical expenditures for children and adolescents with ASD were 4.1 to 6.2 times greater than for those without autism.

*Some information on this page has been provided by the Center for Disease Control, also known as the CDC.

Contact Information

Questions? Ask Here.

Make a Difference

Make a Difference