Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a developmental disability that involves communication, social interaction and behavioral difficulties. The terminology has recently changed, so ASD now includes the previous diagnoses of Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
Children with an ASD diagnosis show difficulties in two main areas:
The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled. Many different symptoms can manifest within each of these areas. Therefore, two children with the same diagnosis can have different abilities and behave in very different ways.
Once considered rare, the current understanding of autism is that it is in fact one of the more common developmental disabilities.
The following are a list of some behaviors that can be used to formulate questions which may be useful in reviewing the diagnostic criteria. The child with autism may:
Although no one specific cause for autism is known, current research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. There is reason to believe that genes play a major role in the development of autism. It has been found that identical twins are more likely to both be affected than twins who are fraternal (not genetically identical). In a family with one autistic child, the chance of having another child with autism is about 5 percent - or one in 20 - much higher than in the normal population.
Sometimes, parents or other relatives of an autistic child have mild social impairments (such as repetitive behaviors and social or communication problems) that look very much like autism. Research also has found that some emotional disorders (such as manic depression) occur more often in families of a child with autism.
At least one group of researchers has found a link between an abnormal gene and autism. The gene may be just one of three to five or more genes that interact in some way to cause the condition. Scientists suspect that a faulty gene or genes might make a person more likely to develop autism when there are also other factors present, such as a chemical imbalance, viruses or chemicals, or a lack of oxygen at birth.
Because of the variety and combination of behaviors which may be present in a child with autism, no single approach is effective with all individuals who have the disorder. Hence, a multidisciplinary approach is best suited, which includes behavior modification, speech/language therapy, sensory integration training, medication, and others.
One of the most important aspects of an intervention program is that it is tailored to meet the child's and family's individual needs. It is coordinated by a team of specialists including a special education teacher, speech/language pathologist, clinical psychologist, occupational therapist and psychiatrist. The parents are also an essential part of this team.
Early intervention refers to doing things as early as possible to work on your child's autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characteristics. It is very important for young children with ASD to receive support as early as possible in life to assist their development.