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An Education on Autism Spectrum Disorders

We are all more alike than different…

There is a popular series of television commercials that have aired over the past two years emphasizing an important fact.   In one commercial, there is a young boy being strapped into his car seat by his mother and it said: The chances of your child being in a fatal car accident: 1 in 25,000. The chances of your child having Autism: 1 in 150.  Another commercial depicted a little girl dancing and singing the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It stated: The chances of your child starring in a Broadway production: 1 in 12,000.  The chances of having Autism: 1 in 150.  The purpose of “bringing to life” those odds is not to establish a negative tone but the complete opposite: to educate and make the public aware that Autism exists and it is time to listen!  Autism Speaks is responsible for creating those commercials and it is an important organization that attempts to educate the public and as such, has become a vital part of the “cure.”

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the Autism Spectrum consists of five variations collectively referred to as the Pervasive Developmental Disorders: Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s Syndrome (Rett), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) and Asperger’s Syndrome.  Therefore, the statistic 1 in 150 refers to any one of the aforementioned conditions. 

What is the Spectrum?

An individual often hears, “Oh, he’s on the spectrum.”  According to Stillman (2007), there are many degrees of Autism from highly functional to noncommunicative, and the spectrum refers to a range in which a child’s autism-related symptoms fall.  In reality, all social and emotional conditions are part of a spectrum, which means that there are different severity levels of symptoms from few if any symptoms to exhibiting many characteristics of the condition. 

What is Autism?

As previously mentioned, Autism is part of a broader condition known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or the more commonly used term, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  ASDs refer to a complex group of related disorders marked by impaired communication and socialization as well as by a limited range of interests. Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout an individual’s life.  At the present time, there is no permanent cure.  Boys are four times more likely than girls to have Autism. 

Autism is characterized by severe or pervasive impairment in one’s ability to communicate effectively and to relate to others.  In addition, the presence of repetitive patterns of behavior and rigid routines, interests, or activities are typically associated with Autism.

What are the common characteristics of Autism? 

Stillman (2007) outlines numerous distinctive features-

The individual may:

  • Seem challenged in communicating through the use of nonverbal communications such as making eye contact or using appropriate facial expression, body language, and gestures
  • Experience a delay in speech and language skills which may include difficulty with initiating as well as maintaining a socially appropriate conversation
  • Seem to have difficulty developing friendships with same-age children and may prefer to play alone
  • Refer to him/herself in the third person or may repeat the same words and phrases
  • Have a strong preoccupation with a certain item or topic
  • Engage in specific rituals or routines.  If disrupted, the individual may become upset
  • Engage in physical movements such as body rocking, flapping hands, or spinning the body

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)?

As noted by Stillman (2007), PDD-NOS is ascribed as a diagnosis when an individual does not qualify for the full features of Autism or one of the other pervasive developmental disorders.  However, the individual is exhibiting marked impairment of social interaction, communication, and/or stereotyped behavior patterns.

What is Rett’s Syndrome (Rett or RS)?

Rett’s Syndrome was first formally identified in 1966.  This pervasive developmental disorder exclusively affects females.  At some point during early development, typically between six and eighteen months of age, children experience a noticeable slowing of head growth as well as a regression of motor skills and the capabilities to engage in self care skills.  Learning, speech, and breathing may also be affected. 

What is Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)?

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is considered to be a rare pervasive developmental disorder.  Children who are affected by Childhood Disintegrative Disorder develop normally up until approximately two years of age.  Around two years of age, the child will inexplicably regress as well as lose skills that were previously acquired.  A loss of skills may be evidence by issues with self-care as well as communication skills. 

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is another pervasive developmental disorder.  Asperger’s Syndrome differs from Autism in that the individual with Asperger’s “develops typically in childhood without any apparent cognitive or developmental delays” (Stillman p8).  Difficulty may be noted with the individual’s ability to comprehend social cues, innuendos, and humor without explanation.  

To date, Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome seem to be discussed frequently in the media.  Incidentally, Asperger’s syndrome was not even recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a separate and distinct condition from Autism until 1994.  However, the debate rages on as to whether Asperger’s is truly a separate condition from Autism.  Many respected researchers continue to note that it is just somewhere on “the spectrum” or a sort of “high-functioning” Autism.  Either way, no one can debate the fact that it is a pervasive developmental condition that typically lasts throughout one’s life and there is a real need and a social responsibility to provide individual, family, school and community-related support.

Resources 

American Psychiatric Association.  (2000).  Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.) : Text revision.  Washington, DC: Author. 

Autism Speaks Organization- www.AutismSpeaks.org

International Rett Syndrome Association- www.rettsyndrome.org

Stillman, W.  (2007). The Autism answer book: More than 300 of the top questions  parents ask.  Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc. 

 

Notbohm, E.  (2005). Ten things every child with Autism wishes you knew.  Texas: Future Horizons, Inc. 

Disclaimer: 

This article was written in order to provide information regarding Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Do not diagnose an individual based on the presented information.  For further information, you may wish to consult with a family physician. 

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