Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder: What is it?

Autism is a term used very loosely in our society. When a child may have delays, the term is tossed around quite a bit. But, many don’t fully understand the term, the causes, or the systems of this disability.

According to autismspeaks.org, Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD).

It is a developmental disability that comes from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. It is characterized by the abnormal development of communication skills, social skills, and reasoning. Research shows that males are affected four times as often as females. Children may appear normal until around the age of 30 months, or close to age 3.

Autism symptoms vary widely in severity, include impairment in social interaction, fixation on inanimate objects, inability to communicate normally, and resistance to changes in daily routine. Characteristic traits include lack of eye contact, repetition of words or phrases, unmotivated tantrums, inability to express needs verbally, and insensitivity to pain. Behaviors may change over time. Autistic children often have other disorders of brain function; about two thirds are mentally retarded; over one quarter develop seizures.

Kidshealth.org says that Autism affects about 1 in every 150 kids. Even though some sites list this number as 1 in 110. The vast majority of cases of autism are idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown. Some scientists think that some kids might be more likely to get autism because it or similar disorders run in their families. Knowing the exact cause of autism is hard because the human brain is very complicated.

Different people with autism can have very different symptoms. Health care providers think of autism as a “spectrum” disorder, a group of disorders with similar features. One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have serious symptoms. But they both have an autism spectrum disorder. Currently, the autism spectrum disorder category includes: Autistic disorder (also called “classic” autism), Asperger syndrome, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (or atypical autism).

In some cases, health care providers use a broader term, pervasive developmental disorder, to describe autism. This category includes the autism spectrum disorders above, plus Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett syndrome.

A child with Asperger’s Disorder has the same common problems as children with autism however they don’t have language development problems of an autistic child.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder and not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) children have autism but don’t meet the criteria for high functioning autism.

A High-Functioning Autistic child has autism but has normal learning and cognitive and learning skills. Language development is difficult initially but they become proficient eventually.

If you are looking for more information regarding Autism, please don’t be afraid to ask. This is a very wide topic, and may be confusing to many, so talk to your child’s pediatrician for details, seek out info on the internet, or talk with a trusted health care professional.

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