understanding autism spectrum disorders
What is Autism?
Autism (also called autism spectrum disorder) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by challenges in verbal and non-verbal communication, impaired social skills, speech and repetitive behaviors.
In most cases, the signs of autism appear between the ages of 2 and 3 years of age. There are some cases where a diagnosis can be made as early as 18 months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It is more prevalent in boys than girls as It affects 1 in 42 males versus 1 in 189 females.
If you feel that there are delays in your child's development, consult a doctor or therapist.
What is Asperger's syndrome?
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social skills, and rigid, repetitive behaviors as well as restricted areas of interest and activities. Typical features may include:
- Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements.
- Display an intense interest in a specific subject.
- Difficulty making eye contact.
- Difficulty reading body language
- A rigid, abnormal adherence to routines.
Social interactions can be difficult for individuals with Asperger's syndrome. They may not know what to say or how to respond in conversations. Reading body language or the expressions on people's faces is also a challenge.
They may talk about themselves often or speak extensively about a specific subject. They might repeat a word or phrase many times. People with Asperger syndrome tend to be most comfortable "in their own world".
Children with Asperger's are more likely to become independent, full functioning adults. However, these individuals may continue to have difficulty with social interactions as life goes on.
Conversations can be awkward for some individuals on the spectrum because of their challenges reading body movement or facial expressions.
Asperger's syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. In 1944, he published a paper about his research on the behavior patterns on several young men who exhibited normal intelligence and language development but somehow showed signs of autism.
Asperger's syndrome was added to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994. It was described as a separate disorder from autism. The latest edition (DSM-V) which was published in 2013, created a new diagnosis. In this new category Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and other developmental disorders all related.
Due to the change, individuals who were once diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome most likely were re-diagnosed within this new umbrella of the autism spectrum disorder because of these changes and revisions.
It is strongly recommended that you should refrain from self diagnosing or treating your child. Asperger's syndrome, as well as other PDDs and autism spectrum disorders should be diagnosed by experienced, licensed professionals. If you feel that there are delays in your child's development, consult a doctor or therapist.
What is PDD NOS?
Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) also went through a name change in 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association reclassified Asperger's syndrome, autistic disorder, and PDD-NOS as autism spectrum disorders. PDD-NOS became the diagnosis for individuals who are on the autism spectrum but don't fit the criteria for autism or other PDDs. But a pervasive developmental disorder exists where social interactions, behavior and communication are affected.
Due to the DSM-5's revision of PDD-NOS, individuals who were once diagnosed with PDD-NOS or Asperger's Syndrome most likely were re-diagnosed within the new umbrella of the autism spectrum disorder because of the DSM changes and revisions.
Typical characteristics of individuals with PDD-NOS are:
- Challenges in social interactions.
- Difficulty with changes in routines or environments.
- Uneven skill development (high in some areas and low in others).
- Unusual play with toys and other objects.
- Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns.
It is strongly recommended that you should refrain from self diagnosing or treating your child. PDD-NOS, as well as other PDDs and autism spectrum disorders should be diagnosed by experienced, licensed professionals. If you feel that there are delays in your child's development, consult a doctor or therapist.
What is Autistic Disorder?
Autistic disorder (also known as classic autism or Kanner's autism) is best described as the most serious form autism spectrum disorder. It's further along the spectrum than PDD-NOS and Asperger's syndrome. It includes the same symptoms, but at a more deeper level. Children with classic autism have noticeable issues with speech and communication, behavior and social interaction. individuals diagnosed with classic autism are often hypersensitive and avoid physical contact with others.
They can be extremely sensitive to touch, smells, sounds and even sight. This can cause the child to react violently to sensory input. Many people with at this end of the spectrum will not try anything new. They are driven by routines and will often show extreme dislike when their routines are disrupted. Many individuals are incapable of making eye contact when speaking to other people.
Children will start to exhibit symptoms around the age of three and continue as they get older. Symptoms may include:
- Rigid, dogmatic behavior.
- Repetitive actions and speech.
- Self harm. Hitting or scratching themselves.
- Withdrawn and avoids social situations. Will not make eye contact.
- Obsessive, focuses on a specific interest.
What is Childhood Disintegrative Disorder?
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is a rare condition characterized by late developmental delays or drastic reversals in social interaction, motor skills and language. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5 (DSM-5) added CDD into a single diagnostic called "autism spectrum disorder" in 2013.
CDD is referred to as "regressive autism" describing any type of autism where regression takes place. Children will develop normally in the beginning and even reach certain milestones before learned skills are affected. Typically, the child develops normally until around the age of three. The skills that they've acquired are lost almost completely.
Social and emotional development also regress, resulting in difficulty relating with others. In addition, restricted, repetitive, or stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities occur.
Children affected with CDD develop normally like other age appropriate children. By the time the child reaches the age of three, learned skills are lost completely in some of the areas listed below:
- Social skills and self care
- Loss of control over bowels and bladder.
- comprehension: Conversation becomes a challenge language skills diminish.
- Diminished motor skills
- Diminished play
Other names for Childhood disintegrative disorder:
- Heller's syndrome
- Disintegrative psychosis
What is Rett syndrome?
Prior to the discovery of a genetic cause, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) designated Rett syndrome as a pervasive developmental disorder. After research proved a genetic origin, the DSM-5 declassified it altogether as a mental disorder.
Rett Syndrome is a genetic brain disorder which affects mostly girls. The age when symptoms appear may vary. But symptoms usually appear within the first two years. Some of the symptoms of Rett syndrome include:
- Microcephaly: A rare disorder in the nervous system that causes a child's head to not fully develop. The child's brain doesn't grow as it should.
- Difficulty moving hands: Most children with Rett syndrome experience regressive use of their hands. Repetitive hand movements such as wringing or rubbing are noted. They may also repeatedly place their hands in their mouth.
- Incontinence is also a sign of Rett Syndrome.
Other symptoms may include:
- Loss of language skills: Between 1 to 4 years of age, social and language skills start to decline. Children with Rett syndrome stop talking and can have extreme social anxiety. They may stay away from or not be interested in other people, toys, and their surroundings.
- Difficulty breathing: A child with Rett may have uncoordinated breathing and seizures, including very fast breathing (hyperventilation), forceful exhaling of air or saliva, and swallowing air
Symptoms of Rett syndrome usually don’t improve over time. It’s a lifelong condition. Often, the symptoms worsen very slowly, or don’t change. It’s rare for people with Rett syndrome to be able to live independently.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Our senses give us important information about our environment through sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. Sensory processing disorders are characterized by significant issues when organizing sensations delivered to the body from its environment. Different people can experience a wide range of issues when processing disorders exist. Some may be:
- Tactile (some fabrics may feel rough and itchy )
- Vestibular (motion sickness)
- Proprioceptive (issues with gauging pressure to hold a pen or a pencil)
These issues are commonly seen in individuals who are on the autism spectrum. It can affect one sense or it can affect all of them.