Does your child act very differently from other children his or her age?
Has your child had difficulty meeting his/her developmental milestones on time?
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disorder that affects children's abilities to communicate with others, make friends, and behave appropriately. Parents usually notice certain signs or behaviors that make them suspect their child has a disorder. A child my seem deaf, not use language, not be affectionate, and/or show little eye contact. A child with ASD may also have problems adjusting to new places or situation, interacting with others, and/or playing appropriately. Parents may also see more temper tantrums and/or strange behaviors like flapping hands or spinning objects. Children with ASD are often described as being "in their own world."
- The three main types of ASD are Autism Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Aspergers Disorder. All three types share the same symptoms, but in different degrees. For example, a child with Aspergers's may use more language and communicate better with others than an individual with Autism. However, both children may have trouble playing with other children their age. Even within one disorder, an individual's skills and intellectual abilities may vary greatly. One child with Autism may have better play skills or language skills than another child with Autism. There is a lot of variability among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
- There are several different types of ASD and according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) there are three common characteristics of all subtypes.
- Impaired Social Interactions
- Communication Impairments
- Behavior Abnormalities
To be diagnosed with ASD, a child must have a certain number of characteristics in each category.
Impaired Social Interactions
Must have at least two of the following:
- Problems using body language (eye contact and gestures)
- Doesn't develop relationships with other people
- Doesn't try to share emotions or experience with others
- Doesn't respond to social or emotional situations or the emotions of others
Must have at least one of the following:
- Delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language
- Children who can talk may have difficulty carrying on a conversation with others
- May use odd words, say a word or phrase over and over again, use strange, nonsense words, and/or have problems using words to express themselves or what they want
- Lack of typical play skills
Must have at least one of the following:
- Overly interested in objects (or parts of objects such as the wheels of a toy car or the sound a toy makes), activities, and/or subject matter such as movies, songs, books, or a favorite toy
- Has problems changing routines and/or adjusting to new situations
- Overly interested in unimportant rituals (ex. Lining up toys in the same patterns over and over again)
- Unusual body movements (hand or finger flapping or twisting)
Some Facts about Autism Spectrum Disorders...
- Symptoms are usually seen before the child is three years old.
- Occasionally the child may seem to be developing normally, but problems begin to develop before he/she turns three years old.
- It is common for the skills of a person with Autism to be uneven. In other words, he or she may exhibit strength in particular skills and weaknesses in others.
- Boys are four to five times more likely to have autism than girls are.
- Communication skills and intellectual level are good indicators of outcome in life.
Some common symptoms of Autism…
- Poor eye contact
- Doesn't like to be touched
- Delayed language skills
- Decreased joint attention (can't pay attention to more than one thing at a time)
- Echolalia (repeating words that others say)
- Language not used for social communication
- Desire for sameness
- Resistance to change
- Odd body movements
- Strange ways of speaking (ex. Speaks in a high-pitched voice or speaks very quietly)
- Preoccupation with specific topics
- Exaggerated/diminished responses to stimuli (ex. Doesn't cry when hurt or cries for an hour if barely touched)
- Self-injurious behavior (hurting themselves)
- Mental retardation
- Aggressive behavior
- Splinter skills (uneven strengths and weaknesses in abilities)
Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified
PDD-NOS is the diagnosis often given to individuals who have characteristics of Autism Disorder but do not have all the symptoms of Autism. For example, a child may have no language and some strange behaviors (like spinning around in circles and flapping his hands), but makes eye contact and notices other people around him. Because this child does not have all the symptoms of Autism, he may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Treatment options for people with PDD-NOS are the same as those for Autism Disorder.
Some things to know about Asperger's Disorder...
- People with Asperger's Disorder may have the same symptoms as Autism but without the severe communication and learning problems.
- The disorder is on the mild end of the spectrum of Autism Disorders.
- Intellectual skills are average to above-average.
- A child with Asperger's may have problems with early physical milestones, like crawling or walking, and may be clumsy.
- Because of good communication and learning skills, the disorder may not be recognized until later in childhood.
- Children with Asperger's may speak in a more adult-like way than typical.. However, they may still have trouble with nonverbal language, like eye contact and body language.
- The major features of this disorder are problems getting along with others in social situations because of fascinations with certain items of interest. For example, a young boy with Asperger's may not talk to his classmates because they do not share his interest in airplanes or computers.
- Asperger's is more common in boys than girls. When it is diagnosed in girls, they have fewer problems.
- Individuals with Asperger's can be helped by social skills training. This training helps them learn to fit into society. Skills taught include understanding how people (including themselves) feel in certain situations, how to communicate with others, and how to behave in social settings.
What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?
- Visit a mental health professional who can assess your child for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Click here to learn about mental health providers in your area who can assess for and/or treat ASD in children.
- Visit www.childlite.org for additional helpful information.
- Often children diagnosed with ASD also are diagnosed with Mental Retardation.1 Therefore, it is important that any PDD assessment also include an assessment of the child's intelligence.
- The Autism Society of America is an organization that provides information and referrals to families of children with Autistic Disorder and other developmental disorders. The web address for the Autism Society of America is www.autism-society.org.
- Children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with developmental disorders may have certain rights in school as a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act), passed in 1973. If your child has been diagnosed with a PDD, it is wise to contact your child's school to arrange special accommodations to help your child progress academically now and in the future.