What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life and lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. It is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of characteristics ranging from mild to severe. Individuals with ASD demonstrate difficulties in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Each person displays communication, social, and behavioral patterns that are unique to the individual but fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD. There are five primary diagnostic terms that fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder heading: Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, PDD-NOS, Rett's Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. While each shares common characteristics, there are differences that distinguish one diagnosis from another. For more complete information on "What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?" visit:



Karen Berlin, M.Ed., BCBA,
Autism and Intellectual Disabilities Coordinator

  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention alternate
    • What is Asperger Syndrome?


      Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of ASD. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome demonstrate challenges with social functioning and display repetitive interests or behaviors. In regard to communication, individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome may typically develop speech, but exhibit challenges with the social elements of communication, such as turn taking in conversation or understanding figurative language. To learn more about “What is Asperger’s Syndrome?” visit:

      Center for Disease Control and Prevention


      National Institute for Mental Health


      National Institute of Child Health and Human Development


    • What is the Prevalence of ASD?



      • About 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network | Read Article
      • ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
      • ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).
      • Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an average prevalence of about 1%. A recent study in South Korea reported a prevalence of 2.6%.| Data Table
    • What on-line training is available to increase my understanding of ASD?


      Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence (VCU ACE)

      This Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorders provides participants with an understanding of the primary characteristics of ASD, which include impairments in communication and social development and the presence of repetitive patterns of behavior. Secondary characteristics, including sensory processing differences and motor deficits will also be explored. The course will discuss the impact ASD has on the person as well as the family unit. The course will also provide an overview of learning styles, the history, cause, and early signs of ASD. | Link Here

      Autism Internet Modules (AIM)

      Provide an extensive list of specific training modules within the categories of “recognizing autism, autism at home, autism in the classroom, autism in the workplace, and autism in the community.” Thirty-nine modules are currently available, with 35 more to be posted soon. | Link Here

      National Professional Development Center on Autism

      The National Professional Development Center on ASD has developed foundational information on Autism Spectrum Disorders including recommended and evidence-based practices for early identification and diagnosis, as well as for intervention and education. This information was originally developed in 2008 as an online course, Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorders, for Autism Training Team members and others in states with which the National Professional Development Center on ASD partners. The course is now available to increase knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorders and the challenges individuals with ASD encounter. The content of the course is foundational and is divided among the following eight sessions. | Link Here

      Understanding Autism

      is a web-based undergraduate course offered at Yale University, with all lecture content and supporting materials available online for free for anyone who desires to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorders. Topics covered include: overview of Autism, intervention programs, infants and young children, social development, social perception, neuroimaging, behavioral treatments, family perspectives, communication, genetics, and psychopharmacology. | Link Here

      Autism 101

      This course is designed to provide an overview of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how the characteristics associated with ASD may impact learning for children with this diagnosis in school, community and home environments. | Link Here

      Autism Case Training

      This introductory course allows users to gain knowledge and skills to improve early identification of children with ASD and ensure timely and appropriate care. | Link Here

      Illinois Autism Training and Technical Assistance Project, (IATTAP)

      offers three basic online course versions for continuing professional development, graduate and undergraduate credit seeking students. Training content includes: introduction to ASD including characteristics and prevalence, person – centered planning, assessment tools, communication, behavior, including functional behavior assessment and introduction to applied behavior analysis and discrete trial instruction. | Link Here

      Autism Training Solutions

      is a fee based self-paced course providing evidence-based coursework specific to the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Courses are comprised of 20 minute modules and include: A Behavior Management Series, (Principles of Behavior, Functional Behavior Assessment, Antecedent Interventions, Consequence Interventions, and Teaching New Behavior, Verbal Management Series- (Introduction to Verbal Management, Instructional Control, and Mand Training), and Discrete Trial Instruction Series, (Introduction to DTI). | Link Here

      ReThink Autism

      is a comprehensive fee-based ABA curriculum that includes: Assessment, (brief skills checklist to assess each student’s current level of performance, Curriculum, (over 1200 video-based exercises demonstrate how to implement EBPs for skills within the curriculum; detailed, written lesson plans are also provided as well as alternate ways to teach each skill, Training (step-by-step instructional videos of educators working with students demonstrate principles of ABA), Data Tracking, (record results from teaching sessions, and have data automatically graphed for ongoing assessment). | Link Here

      Visit www.ttaconline.org to find these as well as other online training resources for learning about ASD

    • What assessments are available for learners with ASD?


      “The evaluation of individuals with autism spectrum disorders can best be described as multidimensional. There are a variety of reasons why an assessment is initiated. Assessment procedures depend on the purpose of the evaluation, the referral question, the source of the referral, and the setting of service provision. The dual-level approach to assessment involves screening all children at-risk for developmental delay for characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorder, followed by a through diagnostic testing and evaluation of individual strengths and weaknesses...The accurate identification and assessment of autism spectrum disorder is dependent on the assessment process, not the results of a single measure or procedure. As such, collaboration between professionals, parents, and teachers is a necessary component of an effective assessment process and an accurate interpretation of information gathered.”

      Source: Lantz, J. (2003). Assessment processes for autism spectrum disorders: Purpose and procedures. The Reporter, 8(1), 11-15. Retrieved from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism.

      The Kellar Lending Library and the VDOE T-TAC at GMU house a wide variety of assessment instruments which are available for use in Region 4. In addition, there are a number of educational, communication, behavioral, assessment tools useful in gathering information about students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Currently the T/TAC library holdings include the following assessments that were developed particularly for children and youth on the autism spectrum:

      • The ABBLS-R: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills, Revised (ABBLS) (check-out through TTAC @ GMU)
      • The VB-MAPP: The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (check-out through TTAC at GMU or Kellar Lending Library)
      • ADOS: Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (check out through TTAC @ GMU)
      • ASIEP-3: Autism Screening Instrument for Educational Planning; (Kellar Lending Library)
      • GARS: The Gilliam Autism Rating Scale; (Kellar Lending Library)
      • PEP 3: Psychoeducational Profile: Individualized Assessment and Treatment for Autistic and Developmentally Disabled Children (Kellar Lending Library)
    • What resources are available in evidenced based practices for learners with ASD?


      While many interventions for autism exist, only some have been shown to be effective through scientific research. Interventions that researchers have shown to be effective are called evidence-based practices. General and special educators have access to information and training on evidenced based practices through the following websites and resources:

      • Autism Internet Modules:
        • provide on-line learning modules for 39 topics, including evidence-based practices. Current modules include: Antecedent-Based Interventions (ABI), ASD-4-EI: What Early Interventionists Should Know, Assessment for Identification, Autism and the Biopsychosocial Model: Body, Mind, and Community, Computer-Aided Instruction, Customized Employment, Differential Reinforcement, Discrete Trial Training, Extinction, Functional Communication Training, Home Base, Language and Communication Naturalistic Intervention, Overview of Social Skills Functioning and Programming, Parent-Implemented Intervention, Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Preparing Individuals for Employment, Prompting, Reinforcement, Response Interruption/Redirection, Restricted Patterns of Behavior, Interests, and Activities, Rules and Routines, Self-Management, Sensory Differences, Social Narratives, Social Skills Groups, Social Supports for Transition-Aged Individuals, Speech Generating Devices (SGD), Structured Teaching, Structured Work Systems and Activity Organization, Supporting Successful Completion of Homework, Task Analysis, The Employee with Autism, The Incredible 5-Point Scale™, Time Delay, Transitioning Between Activities and Visual Supports. A listing of 35 additional modules soon to be added is also available. | Link Here
      • National Professional Development Center in Autism:
        • The National Professional Development Center has developed 24 evidence-based practices briefs and implementation guides that correlate to the EBPs contained within the Autism Internet Modules (AIM) site. Each brief contains an overview, step-by-step directions for implementation, and an implementation checklist. The 24 practices include: Antecedent-Based Interventions (ABI), Computer-Aided Instruction, Differential Reinforcement, Discrete Trial Training, Extinction, Functional Behavior Assessment, Functional Communication Training, Naturalistic Intervention, Parent-Implemented Intervention, Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Pivotal Response Training, Prompting, Reinforcement, Response Interruption/Redirection, Self-Management, Social Narratives, Social Skills Groups, Speech Generating Devices/VOCA, Structured Work Systems, Task Analysis, Time Delay, Video Modeling, Visual Supports. | Link here
      • National Standards Project in Autism:
        • A comprehensive review of research on effective interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorders with a free downloadable manual. | Link Here
      • Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence (VCU ACE)
        • offers on-line courses, seminars and webcasts so that participants can acquire skills and knowledge on various topics related to ASD. Extension activities are included for most seminars. These activities can be completed afterwards to apply and practice knowledge and skills learned during the seminar in everyday situations. Extension activities also provide the opportunity to review content and reflect on new information. The activities can be done by an individual or in a group as part of professional development. | Link here
      • IDEA Partnership

        A continuing collection that includes Guiding Principles, Fact Sheet, Essential Elements, Grounding Assumptions, Needs of the Field, Glossary , Standards of Evidence and power point presentations and facilitator guides on Autism Spectrum Disorders. | Link Here

      • Virginia Autism Council

        The VA Autism Council's website provides information on ASD training available throughout Virginia. | Link Here

      • Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN)
    • What is Verbal Behavior programming?


      Verbal Behavior programming is guided by the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to using ABA principles, a Verbal Behavior (VB) practitioner also incorporates BF Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

      • What resources are available to support using the VB-MAPP?
        • The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: The VB-MAPP is a criterion-referenced assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skill tracking system that is designed for children with autism, and other individuals who demonstrate language delays. The VB-MAPP is based on B.F. Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behavior, established developmental milestones, and research from the field of behavior analysis. There are five components of the VB-MAPP, and collectively they provide a baseline level of performance, a direction for intervention, a system for tracking skill acquisition, a tool for outcome measures and other language research projects, and a framework for curriculum planning. | Link Here
        • VB-MAPP Downloadable Charts and Self-Care Task Analysis www.avbpress.com/vb-mapp.html
        • Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project Family Handbook
          This handbook provides an overview of the VB-MAPP and summarizes implementation in select public school divisions in Pennsylvania. | Link Here
        • Steven Celmer of VCU-ACE created this website which houses three handouts that explain the purpose and use of the VB-MAPP assessment.Each includes a related presentation. | Link here
        • The Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group (VB-SIG), is a part of the Association for Behavior Analysis. This SIG is dedicated to the study of "language" from a behavior analytic point of view. | Link here
        • http://verbalbehaviorapproach.blogspot.com | This blog is maintained by Mary Lynch Barbera, author of the book, The Verbal Behavior Approach and offers information, tips and instructional strategies.
        • http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/verbalbehavior | A yahoo discussion group moderated by Christina Burk, a behavior analyst. Members post and answer questions pertaining to ABA and specifically to teaching verbal behavior.
    • What are communication resources for learners with ASD?


      For individuals with ASD, communication is a challenge no matter how much, or how little one speaks. For families and professionals, supporting and encouraging communication skills requires a team approach. Helping individuals with ASD communicate everything from basic wants and need to complex thoughts and ideas can include a wide range of interventions from visual supports to high tech assistive technology.

      It is crucial that IEP teams have access to research-based guidelines and resources in order to help improve the communication capabilities of all students with ASD. All students with ASD need to be able to communicate effectively across environments and for a variety of purposes.

      Guides and Factsheets

      VCU-ACE has developed two Factsheets related to communication:Autism Q & A: Introduction to Alternative and Augmentative Communication and Autism Q & A: Introduction to Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to Verbally Communicate.

      Videos and Training

      VCU-ACE has developed two Seminars on Communication that provide information and resources to support individuals with ASD so that they can communicate both effectively and efficiently. Because communication is so important, individuals with ASD must be provided with a way to communicate and must be taught how to build communication skills as they grow and develop. Introduction to Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) with Individuals with ASD is designed to provide an overview of the types of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems available and discusses how to use AAC devices to help individuals with ASD communicate. Children can be taught to communicate in a variety of different ways including the use of verbal language. Introduction to Teaching Young Children with ASD to Verbally Communicate is designed to help caregivers and educators teach verbal communication to children with ASD. This seminar provides information on finding ways to motivate children to talk, setting up an environment that encourages language, teaching communication during natural situations, and prompting the child to communicate.

      Other websites that may support caregivers and educators in teaching communication skills include:

    • What are Virginia Department of Education ASD Guidelines and Resources?


      Technical Assistance Documents

      Tools for educators, administrators and parents working to improve services for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) - created in collaboration with staff at the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence (VCU ACE).

    • What are the Virginia guidelines for mandatory training to be completed by paraprofessionals working with students with ASD?


      The Code of Virginia §22.1-298.3 requires each school board, by September 1, 2014, to ensure that paraprofessionals assigned to work with a teacher who has primary oversight of students with autism spectrum disorders receive training in student behavioral management within 60 days of assignment to such responsibility. Training standards for paraprofessionals assigned to a teacher who has primary oversight of students with autism spectrum disorders were approved by the Board of Education on January 10, 2013. Refer to Superintendent’s Memo #045-13, dated February 15, 2013.

      The document, Training Guidelines for Paraprofessionals Assigned to Work with a Teacher who has Primary Oversight of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, is intended to assist local educational agencies (LEAs) as they work to address training for paraprofessionals. The Guidelines provide information on the requirements and best practices for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the training of paraprofessionals. The Guidelines should be used in conjunction with existing regulations and are not intended to replace any existing regulation or policy.