The population of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) presents with tremendous heterogeneity. However, there are common characteristics and challenges that compromise the development of critical social communication skills. The core features of ASD include impairments in social communication including aspects of joint attention (e.g., social orienting, establishing shared attention, monitoring emotional states, and considering another's intentions), social reciprocity (e.g., initiating bids for interaction, maintaining interactions by taking turns, and providing contingent responses to bids for interaction initiated by others), language and related cognitive skills (e.g., understanding and using nonverbal and verbal communication, symbolic play, literacy skills, and executive functioning - the ability to problem solve and self-monitor future, goal-directed, behavior), and behavior and emotional regulation (e.g., effectively regulating one's emotional state and behavior while focusing attention on salient aspects of the environment and engaging in social interaction).
More detail about core characteristics and challenges with supporting references is provided in the technical report (ASHA, 2006b). By their very nature, disabilities with a social component are transactional, meaning that there is interaction back and forth between the individual with ASD and his or her communication partner (Wetherby & Prizant, 2000). The core social communication deficits of individuals with ASD may create a transactional dynamic of limited social experience or social exclusion, which may contribute to impaired development and learning (Mundy & Burnette, 2005; Schuler & Wolfberg, 2000). When social communication challenges are present, those who interact with the individual also face significant challenges in learning to modify their interactive style and the environment in order to communicate successfully. Thus, challenges are evident for both the individual with ASD and his or her communication partners.