What is Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as a group of developmental brain disorders with symptoms ranging from mild impairments to severe disabilities. The specific causes of autism spectrum disorder are unknown at this time but it is thought that both environment and genetics are key factors.

Types of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder currently consists of five different disorders that are also called pervasive developmental disorders. These five types of autism disorders include:

  1. Autistic Disorder (classic autism): With classic autism, children demonstrate repetitive behaviors and have trouble making connections with other people.
  2. Asperger’s Disorder (asperger syndrome): Individuals with asperger’s syndrome have strong language skills and are very intelligent but tend to have difficulty in social situations and act out repetitive behaviors.
  3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD - NOS): Children are diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified when they show a few traits of autism but not enough for a full diagnosis.
  4. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): When a child developing normally regresses and loses motor, language, social and other skills between age two and four. This is a very rare condition.
  5. Rett’s Disorder (rett syndrome): A disorder that almost exclusively occurs in girls and consists of normal development followed by a regression of the use of the hands, slowed brain and head growth, difficulties walking and intellectual disability.

Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers

There are several early warning signs of autism in toddlers. Typically the child will have difficulty communicating with others, for example struggling alone with a problem rather than asking for assistance. In addition, they may have poor eye contact or lack interest in sharing and responding to experiences with others. Another notable sign is unusual play with toys, where the child uses the toy for something other than its intended purpose. Finally, young children with an autism spectrum disorder use fewer sounds, words and gestures to convey their message in comparison to normal developing children.

Signs of autism in children that are older surround many of the same areas of social interactions, relationship with others and verbal and nonverbal communication. Older children fail to develop friendships with other kids their age and show a lack of interest in sharing and connecting with other people. In addition, they lack empathy for other’s feelings. Additional signs in older children include a delay in learning to talk, use of repetitive language, difficulty understanding social nuances of conversation such as humor and an unusual pre-occupation on certain toys as well as repetition and routines.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior. ABA autism treatment focuses on changing behaviors. ABA therapist can be instrumental in helping both toddlers and older children learn appropriate behaviors to build better relationship at home, school and in their communities.

Famous People with Autism

There are many famous people with autism. Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle, American Idol alum James Durbin, Daryl Hannah and Dan Aykroyd have all spoken out publicly about their diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Dan Aykroyd attributes one of his symptoms, obsession with ghosts and law enforcement, as his reason for envisioning the film Ghostbusters.


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