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Autism Nursing Guide

Content Contributor: Tiffany Fields, RN, BSN, MSN, DNP, CRNP

Overview: Autism

This content is intended as a Quick Reference for Autism and will provide an overview and nursing considerations utilizing the nursing process.

Etiology and Epidemiology

Autism is a developmental disorder that can pose significant challenges in communication, social interactions, and behavior. Individuals with autism interact, communicate, learn, and behave in different ways than others, causing their learning, problem-solving, and thinking skills to range from severely challenged to gifted. Their abilities for daily living skills can also range from needing minimum to maximum assistance (Christensen et al., 2018)

Over the years, there were other conditions that mimic autism such as autistic disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. During further testing, these conditions now fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Christensen et al., 2018). In the U.S., about 1 in 54 children are affected with autism spectrum disorder and it is more prominent in boys than girls (Autism Speaks, n.d.).

Autism Diagnosis

To diagnose autism, providers should perform the following behavioral and developmental assessments:


To manage autism, the goals are to:

  • Improve or maintain quality of life.
  • Improve cognition, mood, and behavior.
  • Promote a safe environment.
  • Promote social engagements.
  • Improve or maintain functioning of daily living.
  • These goals are best achieved through early detection.

Autism Nursing Considerations

Use the nursing process to develop a plan of care for individuals. The nursing assessment (with common findings listed), diagnosis, interventions, expected outcomes, and education for individuals with Autism are listed below.

Autism Assessment

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Will not point at an object for interest
  • Will not look at an object if pointed out by another person
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Has trouble understanding others
  • Has problems understanding feelings
  • Repeats actions
  • Has trouble adapting to routine
  • Has trouble adapting to change
  • Has different behaviors with smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  • Very interested in people but cannot relate
  • Prefers not to be held or touched by others
  • Unaware when people are talking to them

Autism Nursing Diagnosis/Risk For

  • Impaired social interactions
  • Disturbed thought process
  • Impaired communication
  • Risk for self-mutilation
  • Disturbed personal identity


  • Collect baseline cognitive levels.
  • Assess the ability to read, write, and comprehend.
  • Develop a daily routine.
  • Allow rest time.
  • Avoid reality checks.
  • Provide time to respond to stimuli.
  • Allow time with activities.
  • Develop a trusting relationship.
  • Manage outside stimuli.
  • Encourage individual to express feelings.

Expected Outcomes

  • Remain safe and free from injury
  • Comfortable to express needs
  • Remain free from irritability
  • Maintain or improve level of function

Individual/Caregiver Education

  • Getting regular checkups
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough rest
  • Reporting behavioral changes
  • Keeping a daily schedule
  • Avoiding activities that cause behavioral changes
  • Speaking slowly and giving time to respond
  • Assisting with activities of daily living
  • Finding local support
  • Consulting with a provider, as needed

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The goal of this course is to enhance knowledge of diagnostic criteria, characteristics, clinical interventions, and treatments for those with ASD.
1.5 Contact Hour CE Course

Additional Information

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Content Creator

The content was created by Relias writer Tiffany Fields, RN, BSN, MSN, DNP, CRNP. 
Tiffany has been a clinical nurse for over 20 years. She was educated and trained as a Licensed Practical Nurse in Alabama, where she practiced as a Gerontological Nurse at the local Nursing Homes. She earned her Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Nursing and a Doctorate in Nursing Practice. She also as a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner degree. Her clinical expertise is Adult-Geriatric Nursing and Medical-Surgical medical complexity. She is currently Assistant Director of Nursing at a Rural Hospital as well as a writer for Relias.

Tiffany Fields, RN, BSN, MSN, DNP, CRNP has no relevant financial or non-financial relationship(s) with ineligible companies to disclose.

Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, service mark, manufacturer or otherwise does not constitute or imply any endorsement, recommendation, or favoring of, or affiliation with, Relias, LLC.

All characteristics and organizations referenced in the following training are fictional. Any resemblance to any actual organizations or persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.



  • Autism Speaks. (n.d.) Autism statistics and facts.
  • Christensen, D. L., Maenner, M. J., Bilder, D., Constantino, J. N., Daniels, J., Durkin, M. S., ... & Dietz, P. (2019). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 4 years—early autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, seven sites, United States, 2010, 2012, and 2014. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 68(2), 1.
  • Christensen, D. L., Braun, K. V. N., Baio, J., Bilder, D., Charles, J., Constantino, J. N., ... & Yeargin-Allsopp, M. (2018). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years—autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 65(13), 1.
  • DiGuiseppi, C. G., Daniels, J. L., Fallin, D. M., Rosenberg, S. A., Schieve, L. A., Thomas, K. C., ... & Schendel, D. E. (2016). Demographic profile of families and children in the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED): Case-control study of autism spectrum disorder. Disability and health journal, 9(3), 544-551.
  • Maenner, M. J., Shaw, K. A., & Baio, J. (2020). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years—autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2016. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 69(4), 1.
  • Rice, C. E., Zablotsky, B., Avila, R. M., Colpe, L. J., Schieve, L. A., Pringle, B., & Blumberg, S. J. (2016). Reported wandering behavior among children with autism spectrum disorder and/or intellectual disability. The Journal of Pediatrics, 174, 232-239.


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