Talking Autism Spectrum Disorders with U of M


About one in 36 or 2.8% of 8-year-olds in Minnesota have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. Jennifer Hall-Lande, psychologist and research associate at the Institute on Community Living and the Masonic Developing Brain Institute, shares her expertise on how to support a child with autism spectrum disorder.

Q: What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Dr. Hall-Lande:
Autism Spectrum Disorder or Autism is a developmental disorder that typically begins in early childhood and is characterized by problems with social skills, communication, and repetitive or atypical behaviors. Sensory issues and challenges with executive functioning are also common. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, it is a ‘spectrum’, so it can affect children differently and to varying degrees.

Each autistic child has a distinct set of strengths and challenges and a unique pattern of behavior and level of needs. Some children with autism have difficulty learning skills. Other children with autism may learn things quickly, but find it difficult to communicate ideas, adapt to social situations, and apply their skills in their daily living environment. Some people with autism may need a lot of support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and live completely independently.

Q: What are the early signs of autism?
Dr. Hall-Lande:
Signs of autism show up early, with most children showing signs by age two. Some children show signs of autism in early childhood. Early signs may be subtle, but may include features such as reduced eye contact, lack of engagement with caregiver or peers, language delay, unresponsiveness to their name, repetitive movements or mannerisms, atypical interests or sensory issues.

Other children may grow typically in the first few months or years of life, then become withdrawn or lose the language skills they have already learned. If families notice any of these signs or have concerns, they should speak with their pediatrician or healthcare provider.

Q: How does autism affect children in Minnesota?
Dr. Hall-Lande:
In Minnesota, about 1 in 36 8-year-olds, or 2.8 percent, were identified as having an autism spectrum disorder in 2018. Thus, a typical 3rd grade class would likely have at least one child identified as autistic. This tells us that autism is no longer a low incidence disability and that many children and families are affected by autism. We also know that about four boys for every girl are identified. And even though we know we can identify autism before the age of 2, the average age of clinical diagnosis is much later, at 5 years and 3 months. Children can be identified as young as 18 to 24 months old, and research tells us that the earlier a child is identified, the better their developmental outcomes.

On a broader level, the numbers tell us that we will need to continue to build our capacity to support children with autism and their families.

Q. How can families support a child with autism?
Dr. Hall-Lande:
Early diagnosis and early intervention are essential. Early diagnosis helps a child receive the support and services they need to support their growth and development. It can also help provide support for the family to develop skills and support their child.

If families have concerns, they should discuss them with their pediatrician or health care provider. Families should also contact their school district for additional educational support and services. Parents need to know that their child has both strengths and challenges and use available supports and professionals to help their child learn, grow and thrive.

Q. What additional resources are available for parents?
Dr. Hall-Lande:
There are plenty of free resources to learn more about early signs of autism:

Minnesota Autism Developmental Disorders Surveillance Network: This network provides population-based prevalence estimates of autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities within Minnesota communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides estimates in all communities in the United States

Learn the signs. Act Early, CDC: From birth to age 5, your child should reach milestones in the way they play, learn, talk, act, and move. This site provides resources and tools for parents to monitor child development and advice for acting early on developmental issues.

Autism Navigator: This comprehensive collection of web tools, courses, and videos brings the science of autism to communities, including resources for families and professionals to learn about early signs of autism spectrum disorders.

Autism Society of Minnesota (AUSM): The Autism Society of Minnesota aims to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorders by providing information, education and resources.

About Jennifer Hall Lande
Jennifer Hall-Lande, Ph.D., is a psychologist and research associate at the Institute on Community Living at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hall-Lande does clinical work on child development, including the early identification of autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Hall-Lande conducts research on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability and the identification of developmental delays and disabilities. She is also a researcher with the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Network and has led numerous Learn the Signs. Act early. projects.


About the College of Education and Human Development
The University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) strives to teach, advance research, and engage with the community to increase opportunity for all individuals. As the third-largest college on the Twin Cities campus, CEHD’s research and specialties focus on a range of challenges, including: educational equity, innovations in teaching and learning, child mental health and development, family resilience and healthy aging. Learn more at

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