What Are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

by PammyMcB

The National Institute of Mental Health released information on April 9, 2004 about Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders). “Not until the middle of the twentieth century was there a name for a disorder that now appears to affect an estimated one of every five hundred children.” In 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner brought early infantile autism to the attention of many doctors. He discovered the disorder after extensively studying eleven children with the disorder. Around the same time, Dr. Hans Asperger characterized a disorder not quite as severe. He called this disorder, “abnormality of personality.” This abnormality is now known as Asperger Syndrome. These disorders are now two of five pervasive developmental disorders or PDD. PDD is most recently called autism spectrum disorders or ASD.

ASD can usually be detected before age three and is sometimes detected as early as eighteen months. Parents usually are the first to notice the strange behavior in their child. Several ASD children will begin life normally and suddenly withdraw or become silent. Some will even begin to hurt themselves. PDD or ASD will range from autistic disorder to Asperger Syndrome. The autistic spectrum is a very large spectrum spanning from low functioning to high functioning autism. Low functioning individuals are often institutionalized and unable to live in society. However those who are high functioning are able to adapt and perform well in society.

ASD is more common in children than diabetes, spinal bifida, and Down Syndrome. Yet, less is heard about ASD. It is estimated that there are two to six per one thousand children affected with the disorder. Therefore, there is a great need for earlier testing. It is common for parents, teachers, and even doctors to overlook ASD because they may feel the child is just a little behind. Just like with any other medical problem, the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment can begin. Thus, the sooner the treatment can begin the better the outcome of the child.

All ASD children experience problems in 1) social interaction 2) verbal and nonverbal communication and 3) repetitive behaviors or interests often called “key interests.” These children DO NOT follow normal patterns of development. Therefore, it may be possible to detect ASD from birth. They tend to fall behind in communication skills, social skills (with parents as well as strangers).

Fortunately, there is a checklist of possible indicators that were identified on the Public Health Training Network Webcast, Autism Among Us:

“Possible indicators of ASD:

  • does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by one year of age
  • does not speak one word by sixteen months
  • does not combine two words by two years
  • does not respond to name
  • loses language or social skills

Some other indicators:

  • poor eye contact
  • doesn’t seem to know how to play with toys
  • excessively lines up toys or other objects
  • doesn’t smile
  • at times seems to be hearing impaired”

ASD children seem to have trouble engaging in every day social situations. They may not mutually relate socially and evade eye contact. They may seem awkward and tend to be loners. ASD children tend to pull away when being doted on. They prefer to not be snuggled and hardly seek solace in stressful situations. Parents have a hard time being able to tell when the child is being affectionate. On the other hand, the children have a hard time distinguishing emotion from others. Because it is hard for them to be able to read faces, they have a difficult time telling whether or not a person in angry, happy, sad, playing, or in pain. To make matters worse, it is difficult for those with ASD to be able to see things from others’ points of views. These people may also have trouble controlling their emotions. They frequently are disruptive in social situations. They can have a tendency to be physically aggressive. After all of these difficulties are added together, these people generally find themselves with very few social relationships. There are many communication problems, also known as audio processing delays, which coexist with ASD. These people may have sensory problems. Therefore, they may not like the way certain things feel against their skin. Because of this, many do not like to wear clothing. Loud noises may also upset them so badly that they may cover their heads, hide, hurt themselves or scream. Many with ASD do not like to be touched softly, but may enjoy rough housing.

Many people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders have some mental detriments; though, most are not mentally retarded. When given an IQ test, they may score far above normal on some parts of the tests. However, they may score far below normal on other parts of the test. In studies, it has been found that one in four of these children have or develop seizures. It has also been found that it is common for these people to have Fragile X Syndrome. This is when one of the branches on the X chromosome is pinched and almost broken. Lastly, one to four percent of those with ASD have tuberous sclerosis which is a rare brain tumor condition. This is all the more reason that an early diagnosis must be made. The sooner a person with Autism Spectrum Disorders can get treatment, the more apt they are to be able to become healthy, happy, and productive members of society.