Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects the way an individual communicates and interacts with others.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the way the brain functions. The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) broadens the definition of autism to include several related disabilities that share many of the same characteristics. The 'umbrella' of ASD includes the following disorders:
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) - shares some characteristics of autism but is typically less severe.
- Asperger syndrome - shares autistic characteristics except with relatively typical language development.
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder - children develop typically for the first years of life, than regresses with the loss of speech and other skills.
- Rett's syndrome - a genetic disorder affecting girls. Characterized by neurological symptoms, including seizures, that become more apparent with age.
Children with ASD can vary widely in abilities, intelligence and behaviors. Some or all of the following characteristics may be present to some degree:
- Communication problems (e.g., using and understanding language)
- Difficulty in relating to people, objects, and events
- Limited range of interests
- Unusual play with toys and other objects
- Difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings
- Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns
- Unusual responses to sensory information (e.g., loud noises)
The cause of ASD is unknown. Most experts agree that there are probably multiple causes that affect individuals differently.
More common in boys than girls, these disorders occur in approximately 5 to 15 per 10,000 births.
Diagnosing ASD is a highly involved process that usually requires numerous developmental and educational evaluations as well as visits to physicians who specialize in neurological development. It is important to rule out other physical and psychological conditions which can cause symptoms similar to those shared by individuals with ASD.
There is no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorders, but there are treatments and interventions that can improve functioning for many people. As a general rule, people with autism respond best to structure and clear guidelines regarding expectations for appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Following are some excellent resources for learning about ASD.
Center for the Study of Autism
Autism Society of America
Autism Research Institute
National Autistic Society (UK)
MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome