What is Autism

Autism is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of disorders that cut across all lines of race, class, cultures and ethnicity. Also referred to clinically as “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” (PDD) and “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD), autism impacts millions of children, adults and their families worldwide. Autism spectrum disorders affect not only the person diagnosed with the disorder, but also significantly impacts the entire family in a variety of ways.

Because of the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviors, the types of disorders and the considerable individual variation between disorders, the term “spectrum” is crucial to understanding autism. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders may be non-verbal and asocial, as is often the case of many with “classic” autistic disorders. And on the other end of the spectrum are individuals with a high-functioning form of autism characterized by idiosyncratic social skills, such as Asperger Syndrome. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), these diagnostic categories are outlined under the heading of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs).” In the DSM-IV, these disorders are defined by deficits in three core areas: social skills, communication, and behaviors and/or interests. Types of autism spectrum disorders or PDDs, include:

Autistic Disorder

Autistic Disorder, sometimes referred to as early infantile autism or childhood autism, is four times more common in boys than in girls. Children with Autistic Disorder have a moderate to severe range of communication, socialization and behavior problems. Many but not all children with autism also have mental retardation. According to the DSM-IV, Autistic Disorder is classified as having 6 or more symptoms from a list of 12 possible symptoms in three areas: social interaction, communication and behavior. There must be at least two symptoms indicating social interaction deficits and at least one from communication and behavior.

Causes of Autism
Researchers and mental health experts are still investigating the causes of Autism. Many believe that the pattern of behavior that characterizes Autism may have many causes. There is strong evidence that the causes of Autism lie in the brain. There also seems to be a hereditary component to Autism and research indicates that in some cases Autism may be associated with other mental health disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers are also looking into whether environmental factors that affect brain development might play a role.

There is no cure for Autism and many people do not want there to be one. People with Autism bring this world many special talents and unique gifts that if “cured” could be taken away. Autism is a lifelong condition that requires numerous interventions to improve a person’s functioning in society.

Asperger Syndrome/Asperger’s Disorder

Asperger’s Disorder is one of the newest members of a family called Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs). Therefore, Asperger’s is considered a Pervasive Developmental Disorder as found in the DSM-IV. Asperger’s Disorder was added as a diagnosis to the DSM-IV in 1994.

Hans Asperger was an Austrian pediatrician and the Director of the University Children’s Clinic in Vienna. He spent most of his professional life in Vienna and published his studies predominantly in German. In 1944, Asperger described a condition he termed ‘autistic psychopathy’ after observing four children in his practice who had difficulty integrating socially. Although their intelligence appeared normal, the children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers and were physically clumsy.

Hans Asperger’s observations were published in German and were not widely known until 1981, when an English doctor named Lorna Wing published a series of case studies of children showing similar symptoms, which she called “Asperger’s” syndrome. Wing’s writings were widely published and popularized. Asperger’s became a distinct disease and diagnosis in 1992, when it was included in the tenth published edition of the World Health Organization’s diagnostic manual, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), and in 1994 it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic reference book.

Diagnostic Criteria for 299.80 Asperger’s Disorder
Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. There is no clinically significant general delay in:

Common Traits of Asperger’s Disorder

Children with Asperger’s May Have Trouble With:

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

CDD is an extremely rare disorder with very specific signs of regression in physical functioning such as motor skills or control over bladder and bowel movement. Regression in social and language skills can also be apparent. These regressions will not appear before the age of two. By definition, this disorder can only be diagnosed if those symptoms are preceded by at least two years of normal development. The regression must be prior to age ten.

Rett’s Syndrome

Rett’s Syndrome is also known as Rett Disorder and is diagnosed mostly in girls. The development in children with Rett’s Syndrome proceeds in an apparently normal fashion during the first 6 to 18 months of their lives. At that point parents notice a change in their child’s behavior and some regression or loss of abilities, especially in motor skills such as walking. This is followed by an obvious loss in abilities such as speech, reasoning, and hand use. The repetition of certain meaningless gestures or movements is an important clue to diagnosing Rett's Disorder; these gestures typically consist of constant hand-wringing or hand-washing (Moeschler, Gibbs, and Graham 1990).

Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified

Children with PDD-NOS have characteristics that will make their lives more challenging in some areas. They can have similar impairments such as poor communication, repetitive behavior, lack of imagination and lack of social interaction, like children with Asperger’s Disorder. However, since they will not meet the criteria of Asperger’s or any of the other Autism Spectrum Disorders, their impairments might be less severe or apparent in a mild form. Their intelligence can be normal or above average.