Answers to common questions about Autism and joining the ATPF community.

FAQs About Autism

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability and lifelong neurological disorder characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today. 

We love our ATPF Board Member Wendy Garafalo’s definition too: “An autistic brain works differently than a neurotypical (people without any type of disability) brain. They call it Autism Spectrum Disorder because each and every person with autism is unique and has different abilities and challenges they face. Some kids are nonverbal, others are overly verbal. Some are sensory avoiders, some are sensory seekers. It's a spectrum, not a single line that you can define.”

What are signs for Autism?

Signs of autism usually appear by the age of two or three, but some developmental delays can even be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Early intervention (a.k.a. starting the services and supports like speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy to babies and young children) leads to better outcomes for people with autism later in life.

Learn more about developmental milestones outlined from the CDC and download the Autism Tree Project Autism Checklist Flyer.

What causes Autism?

This is a controversial topic. The most simple answer is genetics, but there are some environmental factors being researched as well. If you want to learn more about the latest scientific research on Autism, we recommend attending our ATPF annual Neuroscience Conference! 

Our mission has always been to serve one child, parent, and family at a time, which allows us to spend our time focusing on meeting people with autism where they are in life, embracing all their weaknesses, strengths, and special interests, and then finding ways to help them integrate and thrive in their families, places of work and communities.

What steps can I take to get a diagnosis?

If you believe your child is not reaching their milestones, the recommended first step would be to have them screened by a professional to check for any developmental delay (this might not mean autism; for example, it could be a speech delay or cognitive delay). A screening does not provide a diagnosis, but it indicates if a child is on the right development track or if a specialist should take a closer look.

If the developmental screening identifies an area of concern, then a formal developmental evaluation may be needed. This formal evaluation is a more in-depth look at a child’s development, usually done by a trained specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, clinical psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or other specialist. The specialist may observe the child, give the child a structured test, ask the parents or caregivers questions, or ask them to fill out questionnaires. The results of this formal evaluation determines whether a child needs special treatments or early intervention services or both.  (Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Getting a diagnosis also depends on your child’s age and where you live. If your child is under 3, you should see your pediatrician or seek out a trained specialist like those listed above. If your child is school-aged, you can ask your school district for a developmental evaluation.

It's common for a diagnosis to take several months, so be patient and remember the diagnosis will not change your child. It is simply a way of helping you understand your child and get the services and resources you need to help.

If you feel overwhelmed, you're not alone! Call our team or register online for our Parent Mentor Program or Navigating Neurodiversity Program.


Can neurotypical siblings come to ATPF events too?

Yes, absolutely! At our family events, the whole family is invited to attend - siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandma and grandpa...anyone involved in that child’s life is welcome!

Your programs look awesome! How do I register for events?

ATPF events are available to members only. Find the right membership for you here.

Is it worth it to pay for a membership if my family only attends a few events a year?

Although our 20 programs and services are invaluable, being a member of ATPF doesn’t just mean you’ll get access to our 200+ events. It means you and your child will be seen and supported by all members of our Autism Tree Family. The goal is for our parents, families, researchers, volunteers and supporters in San Diego and beyond to be connected, informed, and empowered so all individuals on the spectrum can have a voice and live full, meaningful lives.

Learn more about the benefits of becoming a member here.

I really want to join the ATPF Family but my family can't afford an annual membership. What should I do?

Apply for our ATPF Family Sponsorship Program! This program is sponsored by our generous monthly donors to provide an annual membership and access to our 20 programs and 200+ events and services to families in need.

Submit an application here.

Why the name “Autism Tree Project”?

Short answer: Since we were founded, we have experienced that "every family tree is touched by autism".

Long answer: After Dayna and Todd Hoff’s son Garret was diagnosed, they began to organically meet other people whose families were affected by autism. Beginning as a personal project, Dayna would create a "family tree" map of every parent they met, and then began serving one child, one parent, and one family at a time. This evolved into an Autism Tree Family of our own, bringing families living with autism together to provide love and support for each other.

Although our full name is Autism Tree Project Foundation, members of our community also call us "Autism Tree" or "ATPF".

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