are the signs of Autism?
is the difference between Autism and PDD?
The national Autism Society of America web site also has
tremendous information on diagnosis, education, treatment and living with autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is 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. Both children and adults with autism typically
show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social
interactions, and leisure or play activities. One should keep in mind
however, that autism is a spectrum disorder and it affects each
individual differently and at varying degrees - this is why early
diagnosis is so crucial. By learning
the signs, a child can begin benefiting from one of the many
specialized intervention programs.
Autism is one of five disorders that falls under the
umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of
neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment
in several areas of development.”
The five disorders under PDD are:
- Autistic Disorder
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
- Rett's Disorder
- PDD - Not
Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Each of these disorders has specific diagnostic criteria which
been outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic &
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
How common is Autism?
Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental
Disorders, affecting an estimated 1 in 150 births (Centers for Disease
Control Prevention, 2007). Roughly translated, this means as many as 1.5
million Americans today are believed to have some form of autism. And
this number is on the rise.
Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and
other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of
10-17 percent per year. At this rate, the ASA estimates that the
prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.
Autism knows no racial, ethnic, social boundaries, family income,
lifestyle, or educational levels and can affect any family, and any
child. And although the overall incidence of autism is consistent around
the globe, it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.
What are the signs and
characteristics of Autism?
As mentioned previously, autism is a spectrum disorder, and
although it is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and
adults with autism can exhibit any combination of these behaviors in any
degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act
completely different from one another and have varying capabilities.
You may hear different terms used to describe children within
this spectrum, such as autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism
spectrum, high-functioning or low-functioning autism, more-abled or
less-abled; but more important than the term used to describe autism is
understanding that whatever the diagnosis, children with autism can
learn and function normally and show improvement with appropriate
treatment and education.
Every person with autism is an individual, and like all
individuals, has a unique personality and combination of
characteristics. Some individuals mildly affected may exhibit only
slight delays in language and greater challenges with social
interactions. They may have difficulty initiating and/or maintaining a
conversation. Their communication is often described as talking at
others instead of to them. (For example, monologue on a favorite subject
that continues despite attempts by others to interject comments).
People with autism also process and respond to information in
unique ways. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior
may be present. Persons with autism may also exhibit some of the
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
- Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or
pointing instead of words
- Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive
- Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason showing
distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Preference to being alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play
- Spinning objects
- Obsessive attachment to objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Non responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although
hearing tests in normal range.
For most of us, the integration of our senses helps us to
understand what we are experiencing. For example, our sense of touch,
smell and taste work together in the experience of eating a ripe peach:
the feel of the peach's skin, its sweet smell, and the juices running
down your face. For children with autism, sensory integration problems
are common, which may throw their senses off they may be over or under
active. The fuzz on the peach may actually be experienced as painful and
the smell may make the child gag. Some children with autism are
particularly sensitive to sound, finding even the most ordinary daily
noises painful. Many professionals feel that some of the typical autism
behaviors, like the ones listed above, are actually a result of sensory
There are also many myths and misconceptions about autism.
Contrary to popular belief, many autistic children do make eye contact;
it just may be less often or different from a non-autistic child. Many
children with autism can develop good functional language and others can
develop some type of communication skills, such as sign language or use
Children do not "outgrow" autism but symptoms may lessen as
the child develops and receives treatment.
One of the most devastating myths about autistic children is that they
cannot show affection. While sensory stimulation is processed
differently in some children, they can and do give affection. However,
it may require patience on the parents' part to accept and give love in
the child's terms.
What is the difference between Autism and
The term 'PDD' is widely used by professionals to refer to
children with autism and related disorders; however, there is a great
deal of disagreement and confusion among professionals concerning the
PDD label. Diagnosis of PDD, Autism, or any other developmental
disability, is based upon the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), published by the American
Psychiatric Association, Washington D.C., 1994, the main diagnostic
reference of Mental Health professionals in the United States of
According to the DSM-IV, the term 'PDD' is not a specific
diagnosis, but an umbrella term under which there are several specific
diagnosis, including Autistic Disorder;
Rett's Disorder; Childhood Disintegrative Disorder; Asperger's
Disorder; Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Asperger's Disorder is one of five Pervasive Development
Disorders (PDDs), which also includes Autism, Rett's Syndrome, Childhood
Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
PDDs are a category of neurologically-based disorders that have a range
of delays in different developmental stages.
What distinguishes Asperger's Disorder from autism is the
severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children
with Asperger's Disorder may be only mildly affected and frequently have
good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child
with Asperger's Disorder may just seem different.
What Causes Autism?
There is no known single cause for autism, but it is
generally accepted by the medical community that it is caused by
abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show
differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic versus
non-autistic children. Researchers
are investigating a number of theories, including the link between
heredity, genetics and medical problems. While no one gene has been
identified as causing autism, in many families there appears to be a
pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic
basis to the disorder. Researchers are searching for irregular segments
of genetic code that autistic children may have inherited. It also
appears that some children are born with a higher susceptibility to
autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" that
causes autism to develop.
Researchers are also investigating the possibility that, under
certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain
development, resulting in autism. Still other researchers are
investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery, as well as
environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances,
and exposure to environmental chemicals.
Autism tends to occur more frequently than expected among individuals
who have certain medical conditions, including Fragile X syndrome,
tuberous sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrome, and untreated
phenylketonuria (PKU). Some harmful substances ingested during pregnancy
have also been associated with an increased risk of autism. Early in
2002, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
prepared a review of hazardous chemical exposures and autism and found
no compelling evidence for an association. However, there was very
limited research and more needs to be done to rule out chemicals.
The question regarding a relationship between vaccines and autism
continues to be debated. In 2001, an investigation by a committee of the
Institute of Medicine concluded that the "evidence favors rejection of a
causal relationship.... between MMR vaccines and autistic spectrum
disorders (ASD)." The committee however, acknowledged that "they could
not rule out" the possibility that the MMR vaccine could contribute to
ASD in a small number of children. While other researchers agree the
data does not support a link between the MMR and autism, they also agree
more research is clearly needed.
Whatever the cause, it is clear that children with autism and PDD are
born with the disorder or born with the potential to develop it. Bad
parenting does not cause it. It is not a mental illness. Children with
autism are not unruly kids who choose not to behave. Furthermore, no
known psychological factors in the development of a child have been
shown to cause autism.
The national Autism Society of America web site also has tremendous
information on diagnosis, education, treatment and living with autism.