One of the classic indicators of autism is repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), a physician's tool to diagnose autism.
While these behaviors -- which can include hand flapping, banging on walls or rocking back and forth -- may seem odd, they do have a purpose: they can be calming; they can feel good; and they may help the individual communicate with others, said Wagner.
Repetitive behaviors may only pose a problem if they begin interfering in family life or if they prevent those with autism from functioning independently, Wagner added.
However, according to Dr. Pauline Filipek, associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of California, Irvine, a child may learn to outgrow repetitive behaviors.
"Often, as an individual gets older, they learn that such behaviors make them stand out in society, and they learn to miniaturize those behaviors," said Filipek.
"This is a generalization and needs to be individualized because the spectrum is so wide," said Marion.
In short, social relationships are possible for some individuals on the autism spectrum, but not for others on the most severe end of the spectrum, Marion said.
The DSM IV, which includes diagnosing guidelines for autism, lists "impairment in social interaction" as one indication that an individual can have an autism spectrum disorder. But not every child on the autism spectrum will have the same degree of difficulty connecting with others.
"At the most severe end of the spectrum, yes, that's true," said Marion. "But there is a multitude of children who have friends, and even some who do have close relationships."
"It is a disservice to think that all people with autism are dangerous," said Wagner.
The idea rises from numerous news stories of individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high form of autism, who have been accused of burglary and, at times, murder.
However, if you look at the entire population of people on the autism spectrum, the number of people involved in crime is small, said Wagner. If someone with autism were to act out, it may be due to frustration or perhaps physical or emotional overstimulation, not necessarily malice, she said.