What is Autism?
Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled.
ASD is diagnosed according to guidelines listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition – Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). The manual currently defines five disorders, sometimes called pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), as ASD:
- Autistic disorder (classic autism)
- Asperger’s disorder (Asperger syndrome)
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
- Rett’s disorder (Rett syndrome)
- Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).
What are the symptoms of Autism?
Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but in general, they fall into three areas:
- Social impairment
- Communication difficulties
- Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors
Children with ASD do not follow typical patterns when developing social and communication skills. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. Often, certain behaviors become more noticeable when comparing children of the same age.
In some cases, babies with ASD may seem different very early in their development. Even before their first birthday, some babies become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical back-and-forth play and babbling with their parents. Other children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to lose interest in others and become silent, withdrawn, or indifferent to social signals. Loss or reversal of normal development is called regression and occurs in some children with ASD.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
ASD diagnosis is often a two-stage process. The first stage involves general developmental screening during well-child checkups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. Children who show some developmental problems are referred for additional evaluation. The second stage involves a thorough evaluation by a team of doctors and other health professionals with a wide range of specialties. At this stage, a child may be diagnosed as having autism or another developmental disorder.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 2, though research suggests that some screening tests can be helpful at 18 months or even younger. Many people—including pediatricians, family doctors, teachers, and parents—may minimize signs of ASD at first, believing that children will “catch up” with their peers. While you may be concerned about labeling your young child with ASD, the earlier the disorder is diagnosed, the sooner specific interventions may begin. Early intervention can reduce or prevent the more severe disabilities associated with ASD. Early intervention may also improve your child’s IQ, language, and everyday functional skills, also called adaptive behavior.
*Information provided by www.nimh.nih.gov/