What are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)?
Autism, what exactly is it? In short, it is one of several disorders grouped into the Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) category. PDD describes a group of disorders characterized by a variety of impairments within a number of areas of development. The Autism Society of America defines autism as "a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills."
Children as well as adults with autism generally have trouble with social interactions, leisure or play activities, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication abilities. Many cases include poor communication skills, affecting both speech and language. This, in turn, interferes with the ability to express needs and desires, resulting in the use of gestures and alternative communication means. Autism is a spectrum disorder, suggesting that every individual is affected differently and that two children both diagnosed with autism can behave completely differently from each other. Early diagnosis is critical and learning the signs of autism can give way to many beneficial intervention programs for children.Although autism varies greatly between individuals it can still be defined by certain behaviors. Children as well as adults can have any combination of characteristics listed below.
These characteristics include, but are not limited to:
- Fixation on inanimate objects
- Impairment in social interaction
- Inability to communicate normally
- Resistance in changes to daily routine
- Little or no eye contact
- Echolalia - repetition of words or phrases
- Unmotivated tantrums - laughing and/or crying for no apparent reason showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Inability to express needs verbally, using gestures or pointing instead of words
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior
- Preference to being alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play
- Spinning objects
- Obsessive attachment to objects
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Non responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests are in normal range.
There are several behaviors that signal the need for further evaluation. For instance, does the child babble or coo by 12 months? Are there gestures like waving or pointing by 12 months? Are single words produced by 16 months? Are two-word phrases produced on their own by 24 months? Has there been any type of language or social loss at any age? These are crucial milestones in language development. Difficulty meeting these stages in speech and language may suggest early signs of autism.
Autism in and of itself is a very large topic that is continuously being looked at and discussed. With each day we acquire more and more knowledge in terms of assessment, treatment, and support. Although we do not have a concrete answer as to what causes autism, we do have great tools and resources for both the individuals with autism and their families.