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

FAQs About Autism

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. As autistic children become adolescents and young adults, they may have difficulties developing and maintaining friendships, communicating with peers and adults, or understanding what behaviors are expected in school or on the job.

In 2021, the Center for Disease Control reported that approximately 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2018 data.

We love our Autism Tree 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 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 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 autistic people 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.

FAQs About Autism Tree

About our No Show/No Call Policy

Because of how many programs and events we offer, often people do not know Autism Tree only has one full time operational staff and ALL of our program events are led by volunteers (community partners, parents, students, and professionals - all ordinary people who have their own jobs and responsibilities) who want to embrace our neurodiverse children and their families with LOVE. Autism Tree is only sustained through the dedication of people who pay-it-forward.

We completely understand how hard it can be to leave the house with a neurodiverse child! And, since all of our programs and events are offered for free, we only ask that our families:
1. Send a text (replying to a reminder event text)
2. Leave a voicemail at 619-222-4465
OR 3. Send an email to atpfteam@gmail.com
To let our staff and volunteer team know if you can no longer attend for any reason.

Families who no show and do not communicate with our team will be placed on our No Show/No Call List, which will result in the immediate removal of registration from all program events for three months. After three months, those families are welcome to register and attend our events again.

The No Show/No Call List only exists to enforce communication and prevent no shows (especially those who repeatedly sign up but never show) out of respect for our incredible volunteers who pour countless hours of time and effort into offering these opportunities for our families.

To be clear: we are not going to penalize a family for not showing, it’s for not showing AND not communicating.

After 20 years of offering programs free of charge, we expect our families to treat our volunteers with the same respect they offer our families at our program events. Ideally, of course, we prefer families give our team a heads up as soon as possible, as we have had a record number of brand new families join Autism Tree and there is likely another child and family on a waitlist who wants to enjoy the event too!

Of course, if you want to unsubscribe or unfollow our community, please contact our team directly and we’ll remove you from all communication. Thank you for your understanding!

Can neurotypical siblings come to Autism Tree 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?

Autism Tree events are provided at no cost (yes, it's all free!) to any family affected by autism or developmental delays. The whole family is welcome to attend. All events are first come, first served - you must RSVP to receive event details.

To receive event invite notifications about upcoming events, fill out our New Parent Intake Form, and start registering for events via our website calendar - go to the "Programs & Events" tab, select "Event Calendar" and click "Register".

Why the name “Autism Tree”?

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. Since 2003, we were built (and sustained) on a pay-it-forward model!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Never miss out on all of Autism Tree's news and upcoming events!
Get our monthly e-newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.