WHAT is autism?
The word “autism” often evokes an image of a person with the most severe symptoms of the disorder; however, autism is an umbrella term for a wide range of disorders. Clinically, they may be referred to as “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” (PDDs) or “Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
The term “spectrum” is crucial to understanding autism, because of the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviors, types of disorders, and as always, considerable individual variation. Children with autism spectrum disorders may be non-verbal and asocial, as in the case of many with “classic” autism, or Autistic Disorder. On the other end of the spectrum are children with a high-functioning form of autism characterized by idiosyncratic social skills and play, such as Asperger Syndrome. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), these diagnostic categories are outlined under the heading of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs).” In the DSM-IV, these disorders are defined by deficits in three core areas: social skills, communication, and behaviors and/or interests. Types of autism spectrum disorders, or PDDs, include:
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
More information about the diagnostic categories of autism may be found at the Autism Society of America’s Web site.
WHEN is autism diagnosed?
The First Signs of autism most often present themselves before the age of three; with education and practice, some clinicians have even been able to identify the warning signs in children under the age of one. Often, however, 15 to 18 months is the time parents first notice loss of skills or delays in development. Please see Hallmark Developmental Milestones and Red Flags for some of the warning signs.