Autism Spectrum Disorder


Is your child having trouble learning to talk or making eye contact? These are two of the early signs of a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At Mercy, we understand that early autism diagnosis along with developmental therapy can have a positive impact on your child’s life.  

What is Autism?

ASD covers a range of developmental disorders which affect a child’s social abilities. The spectrum includes mild, moderate and severe autism. Because ASD sits on a spectrum, there are many different symptoms and skills that your child might show. Some children have milder symptoms than others.

The first signs of ASD often appear by the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life. It’s important to know that they won’t outgrow it – ASD is a part of who they are. But therapy can help ease some symptoms and help your child engage socially.

Receiving an Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis

You’re not alone. Other parents of autistic children offer their advice here.

Autism Signs & Symptoms

Autism can show a variety of symptoms. It’s important to recognize the signs of autism and talk with your child’s pediatrician if they are showing symptoms.

Some common characteristics of autism include:

  • Stimming (or self-stimulation), which involves repetitive movements like rocking back and forth, pacing, spinning, tapping or a similar action
  • Sensitivity to sounds, bright or flickering lights, textures and certain smells
  • Echolalia (repeating certain words or phrases)
  • Getting angry or upset over a change in routine
  • Preferring to play alone instead of with other children
  • Rarely making eye contact with others
  • Avoiding physical contact
  • Communication issues, which might include developing language late, using a monotonous tone of voice, not recognizing jokes and sarcasm or being entirely nonverbal
  • Strong attachment to certain objects, topics or activities (often called special interests)

Autism Causes & Risk Factors

There’s no single known cause of autism. It’s likely caused by anomalies in the structure and function of the brain. Genetic changes can be inherited, or genes can mutate spontaneously. These mutations can alter brain development. Autism can also be associated with certain genetic disorders like Rett syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

It’s possible that some environmental factors like infections or complications during pregnancy could influence whether a child develops autism, but research is incomplete. We do know that autism isn’t caused by immunizations or immunization preservatives.  

Risk Factors

There are a few factors that can increase the risk of developing autism:

  • Gender – Boys are more likely than girls to be autistic
  • Family history – If someone in your family had autism, the chances that your child will be autistic are higher
  • Preterm birth – Children that are born prematurely have a higher chance of being autistic
  • Parent’s ages – Having a baby when you’re older than 35 can increase the risk of autism

Diagnosis & Treatment for Autism

Mercy pediatricians and primary care physicians routinely screen for autism and can connect you with specialized resources to help diagnose and treat your child.

Click here for autism diagnostic & treatment options.

Specialized Autism Care

In addition to our Behavioral Health Clinics, the Mercy Kids Autism Centers in St. Louis and Springfield, MO offer specialized care for ASD.

Learn more.

View All Results View All Results