Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
Autism – A Succinct Description
Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. Symptoms usually start before age three and can cause delays or problems in many different skills that develop from infancy to adulthood.
Autism – A Spectrum Disorder
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. The autism spectrum disorder includes (1) the autistic disorder known as autism, (2) Asperger Syndrome, and (3) Pervasive Developmental Disorder or atypical autism. Sometimes health
Providers are using the broader term, pervasive developmental disorder, to describe autism. In that case this category (PDD) includes the autism spectrum disorders as well as something called Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett syndrome. In most material autism spectrum disorder and “autism” mean the same thing.
Symptoms of Autism (usually observable by 18 months of age)
- Communication - both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling)
- Social - such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
- Routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors) - such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules, and playing in repetitive ways
Treatment(s) for Autism (ways to minimize symptoms and to maximize learning as opposed to cure - no cure is known)
- Behavioral therapy and other therapeutic options
- Behavior management therapy helps to reinforce wanted behaviors, and reduce unwanted behaviors. It is often based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
- Speech-language therapists can help people with autism improve their ability to communicate and interact with others.
- Occupational therapists can help people find ways to adjust tasks to match their needs and abilities.
- Physical therapists design activities and exercise to build motor control and improve posture and balance.
- Educational and/or school-based options
- Public schools are required to provide free, appropriate public education from age 3 through high school or age 21, whichever comes first.
- Typically, a team of people, including the parents, teachers, caregivers, school psychologists, and other child development specialists work together to design an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to help guide the child’s school experiences.
- Medication options
- Currently there are no medications that can cure autism spectrum disorders or all of the symptoms. There is no Canadian or U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of any medications specifically for the treatment of autism, but in many cases medication can treat some of the symptoms associated with autism.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, psychoactive/anti-psychotics, stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs are among the medications that a health care provider might use to treat symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.
- Secretin—a hormone that helps digestion—is not recommended as a treatment for autism.
Higher than normal Risk Probabilities
Three groups are at higher-than-normal risk for autism spectrum disorders, including:
- Siblings of those with autism
- People with certain other developmental disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome
Where can I get more information about autism?
- Autism Overview: What We Know
- Autism and Genes
- NICHD/NIDCD Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEAs)
- Do you know of others information sources?