Autism is a complex developmental disability that generally appears during the first three years of life. Autism is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Autism and its symptoms have been estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals . It is four times more common in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries.
Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. In some cases, aggressive or self-injurious behavior may be present. People with autism may repeat body movements (hand flapping, rocking), have unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in the five senses ( sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. )
Several related disorders are grouped under the broad heading "Pervasive Developmental Disorder" or PDD-a general category of disorders which are characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development. A standard reference is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), a diagnostic handbook now in its fourth edition. The DSM-IV lists criteria to be met for a specific diagnosis under the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorder.. Diagnostic evaluations are based on the presence of specific behaviors indicated by observation and through parent consultation, and should be made by an experienced, highly trained team. Thus, when professionals or parents are referring to different types of autism, often they are distinguishing autism from one of the other pervasive developmental disorders.
These are some major points that help distinguish the differences
between the specific diagnoses used:
Autism is a spectrum disorder. In other words, the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe.
Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.
There is no standard "type" or "typical" person with autism. Parents may hear different terms used to describe children within this spectrum, such as: autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, high-functioning or low-functioning autism, more-abled or less-abled.
Children with autism often appear relatively normal in their development until the age of 24-30 months when parents may notice delays in language, play or interaction with others. Any of the following delays, by themselves, would not result in a diagnosis of autism. Autism is a combination of several developmental challenges.
The following areas are among those that may be affected by autism:
Language develops slowly or not at all; uses words without attaching the usual meaning to them; communicates with gestures instead of words; short attention span .
Social Interaction: Time spent alone rather than with others; shows little interest in making friends; less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles.
Sensory Impairment: The child may have sensitivities in the areas of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to a greater or lesser degree.
Play: There is a lack of spontaneous or imaginative play; the child does not imitate others' actions; does not initiate pretend games.
Behaviors:The child may be overactive or very passive; throws tantrums for no apparent reason; shows an obsessive interest in a single item, idea, activity or person; apparent lack of common sense; may show aggression to others or self; often has difficulty with changes in routine.
In the medical sense, there is no cure for autism. However, better understanding of the disorder has led to the development of better coping mechanisms and strategies for the various manifestations of the disability.
Some of these symptoms may lessen as the child ages; others may disappear altogether. With appropriate intervention, many of the associated behaviors can be positively changed, even to the point in some cases, that the child or adult may appear to the untrained person to no longer have autism. The majority of children and adults will, however, continue to exhibit some manifestations of autism to some degree throughout their entire lives.