Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly known as Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders)
Most infants and young children are very social creatures who need and want contact with others to thrive and grow. They smile, cuddle, laugh, and respond eagerly to games like “peek-a-boo” or hide-and-seek. Occasionally, however, a child does not interact in this expected manner. Instead, the child seems to exist in his or her own world, a place characterized by repetitive routines, odd and peculiar behaviors, problems in communication, and a total lack of social awareness or interest in others. These are characteristics of a developmental disorder called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Autism Spectrum Disorder can often be identified by the time a child is 30 months old. It is often discovered when parents become concerned that their child may be deaf, is not yet talking, resists cuddling, and avoids interaction with others.
A preschool age child with “classic” Autism Spectrum Disorder is generally withdrawn, aloof, and fails to respond to other people. Many of these children will not even make eye contact. They may also engage in odd or ritualistic behaviors like rocking, hand waving, or an obsessive need to maintain order. Some children with autism do not speak at all. Those who do may speak in rhyme, have echolalia (repeating a person’s words like an echo), refer to themselves as a “he” or “she,” or use peculiar language.
The severity of Autism Spectrum Disorder varies widely, from mild to severe. Some children are very bright and do well in school, although they have problems with school adjustment. They may be able to live independently when they grow up. Other children with Autism Spectrum Disorder function at a much lower level. Intellectual disability is sometimes associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Occasionally, a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may display an extraordinary talent in art, music, or another specific area.
The cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder remains unknown, although current theories indicate a problem with the function or structure of the central nervous system. What we do know, however, is that parents do not cause Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need comprehensive evaluation and specialized behavioral and educational programs. Some children with autism may also benefit from treatment with medication. Some child and adolescent psychologists are trained to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder, and to help families design and implement an appropriate treatment plan. They can also help families cope with the stress which may be associated with having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Although there is no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder, appropriate treatment can have a positive impact on the child’s development and produce an overall reduction in disruptive behaviors and symptoms.
Information used with modifications from Facts for Families© information sheets, which are developed, owned and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).