What are autism spectrum disorders? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Autism Spectrum Disorders (also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders) cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others.
These disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, through pervasive development disorder not otherwise
specified (PDD-NOS), and to Asperger’s Syndrome.” They are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions, and by repetitive behaviors (such as “flapping” one’s arms, watching doors open and shut, rocking, etc.).
How Common is the Occurrence of Autism?
Researchers estimate that 3.4 of every 1,000 children who are between three and ten years old have autism. Children who are diagnosed and treated at an early age show significant improvement. However, only 50 percent of children with autism are diagnosed before kindergarten.
When and How Does Autism Become Apparent?
“Pediatricians, family physicians, daycare providers, teachers, and parents may initially dismiss signs of ASD, optimistically thinking the child is just a little slow and will “catch up.”
Children with ASD do not follow the typical patterns of child development. In some children, hints of future problems may be apparent from birth. In most cases, the problems in communication and social skills become more noticeable as the child lags further behind other children the same age. Some other children start off well enough.
Often, between 12 and 36 months old, the differences in the way a child reacts to people and other unusual behaviors become apparent.
Some parents report the change as being sudden, and that their child starts to reject people, act strangely, and lose language and social skills they had previously acquired.
In other cases, there is a plateau of progress so that the difference between the child with autism and other children the same age becomes more noticeable.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder characterized by major difficulties in social interaction, and unusual patterns of interest and behavior. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered part of the autism spectrum.
What are some specific behaviors that children who have autism exhibit?
According to Kyle’s Tree House, an association of Autism Spectrum Support groups, some of the symptoms may be exclusivity or a lack of significant age appropriate relationships with others, which may be exhibited by:
- Repetitious and self-stimulating behaviors
- Lack of eye contact
- Low attention span
Autism is exhibited by developmental delays but can vary greatly. They include:
- Language difficulties
- Flat affect
- Self-help skills such as dressing and toilet training
- Academic challenges
- Injurious behavior to oneself or others
What Can I do if I Suspect That My Child Has Autism?
- Contact your pediatrician for a consultation and referral to a certified mental health clinician who has expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
- Call the school to find out about services available in your district.
- Join a support organization for autism and become involved with other families who face the same challenges.
- Educate yourself and your family with as much information as you can.
- Explore all funding sources—the treatment of autism can be expensive.
Coalition Library Resources
- Facing Autism: Giving Parents Reasons For Hope and Guidance For Help, by Lynn Hamilton
- Could it Be Autism?, by Nancy Wiseman
- Different Like Me: My Book Of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer Elder
- The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, by Carol Stock Kranowitz
- The Jumbled Jigsaw, by Donna Williams
- Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, by Ellen Notbohm