Social Work Autism Spectrum Disorders
Paul T. Shattuck, Valerie Njiiri, Laura Hudson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0161


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is not an officially defined term but generally refers to three diagnoses listed under the general heading of pervasive developmental disorders in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association 2000, cited under Manuals and Guides): autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). As of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the prevalence of ASDs among children is about one in eighty-eight. Research into etiology and intervention is evolving at a very rapid pace. Individuals working with this population must exert extra effort to stay updated on recent developments. ASDs have pervasive impacts across multiple systems, including biophysical, psychological, developmental, and social. The individual patterns of impacts are extremely heterogeneous and, thus, the need for intervention tailoring is especially important. Rates of mental and physical health comorbidities are high, which increases the likelihood of need for care coordination and transdisciplinary team collaboration for assessment and intervention. No single cause of ASDs has been identified.

General Overviews

Several valuable resources can help in providing an introduction to autism spectrum disorders. Lord and Bishop 2010 is a very readable and up-do-date description of ASDs with a thoughtful exploration of issues related to diagnosis, prevalence, interventions, and policy. The National Institute of Mental Health website places more emphasis on reviewing clinical features and research on etiology and basic neurological and genetic mechanisms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has very useful information about early warning signs, screening, assessment, and prevalence. Myers and Johnson 2007 and Johnson, et al. 2007 represent up-to-date reviews of medical research on etiology, comorbidities, diagnosis, and treatment.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

    An online resource providing statistics and facts about ASDs as well as information on screening, treatment, and diagnosis. Information is useful for both undergraduate- and graduate-level students. Especially helpful as a quick reference website with updated information. Notable for its collection of up-to-date research articles, downloadable material, and links to external resources.

  • Johnson, Chris Plauché, Scott M. Myers, and American Academy on Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. 2007. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics 120.5: 1183–1215.

    DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-2361

    This report gives a comprehensive overview of the epidemiology, etiology, and screening of autism spectrum disorders. The report replaces the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2001 policy statement and technical report on autism. Especially notable is the report’s in-depth description of screening processes for primary care practitioners.

  • Lord, Catherine, and Somer Bishop. 2010. Autism spectrum disorders: Diagnosis, prevalence, and services for children and families. Social Policy Report 24.2: 1–27.

    This article provides an overview of autism diagnosis, prevalence, and treatment. Explores policy implications for each topic. Notable for the commentary provided by experts in the field, although it should be noted that it pertains only to social policy in the United States.

  • Myers, Scott M., and Chris Plauché Johnson. 2007. Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics 120.5: 1162–1182.

    DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-2362

    This report provides a topical overview of issues related to autism and its treatment: educational interventions, medical management, and family support. This is ideal reading for those hoping to gain an introductory understanding of ASDs. This article also has an extensive list of references that can help guide further reading.

  • National Institute of Mental Health. 2004. Autism spectrum disorders: Pervasive developmental disorders.

    This publication provides an overview of autism symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Also provides information about resources available to families affected by autism. It is helpful as an introductory primer to ASDs. It is appropriate reading for undergraduate- and graduate-level students as well as practitioners.

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