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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name given to a group of brain development disorders that are characterized by repetitive behaviors, social interaction difficulties, and verbal and nonverbal communication impairments. Severity and characteristics vary across individuals on the spectrum. Individuals on the autism spectrum are visual learners and some excel in the areas of math, art and music. Rett syndrome, Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder fall within the category of ASD.

Symptoms of ASD usually appear during early childhood between the ages of 1 and 3. Specific signs of the disorder are characterized by the absence of:

  • Smiles or other expressions of joy by 6 months or later
  • Shared sounds or facial expressions by 9 months
  • Babbling or shared gestures by 12 months
  • Imaginative and social play
  • Single words by 16 months
  • Meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months

While presently there is no cure for autism, early identification and treatment most often yield positive outcomes.  Benefits of therapy designed to reduce symptoms and improve skills can continue throughout the individual’s life.

Treatment by a speech-language pathologist will be tailored to meet each individual’s unique needs and may include behavioral treatments and language therapy to improve functional communication and social/pragmatic language skills.  A team approach that includes medical professionals, other therapies such as occupational and behavior therapy, and participation by the family is most ideal.  Treatment may occur in the home, a specialized center, or classroom. Parents are often incorporated into the therapy sessions and trained to facilitate communication using specific techniques modeled/taught by the clinician/therapist.

The Northwestern University Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning provides comprehensive evaluation and therapy services on the Evanston campus. Diagnostic evaluations determine the course of treatment, including frequency and appropriateness of individual and/or group therapy.

The Northwestern University Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning is a unique community resource that merges university research and innovative teaching with clinical services. Experts in the field – faculty who are nationally certified and state licensed speech-language pathologists – direct provision of clinical services, bringing exceptional knowledge and experience to our clients.

For more information, contact us at 847-491-3165 or

Additional Information:

Early Intervention Research Group (EIRG)

Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Laboratory