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, communication skills, and behavior.
Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. Sometimes kids with autism also have repetitive language (called echolalia); or hand flapping, twirling or rocking. Many people with autism have little or no eye contact and seem to be uninterested in relationships.
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 may benefit from one of the many specialized interventions.
Autism is one of the 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
- Aspergers Disorder
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
- Rett’s Disorder
- PDD – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Many professionals and parents refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
Each of these disorders has specific diagnostic criteria which have been outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). Note: The DSMV is in the process of being updated and changes in autism diagnosis criteria are being considered. To read more about the DSM-5: The Future of Psychiatric Diagnosis, visit: dsm5.org.