Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. A result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain especially in the areas related to social interaction and communications skills.
The condition traditionally called "autism" is part of a set of five closely related conditions which all share symptoms and fall under the broad diagnostic umbrella of "Pervasive Developmental Disorders." They each share three primary symptoms of impaired social interaction, impaired communication, and characteristic behavior patterns. Following is a brief summary of the conditions:
Autistic Disorder -- occurs in males four times more than females and involves moderate to severe impairments in communication, socialization and behavior.
Rett's Syndrome -- diagnosed primarily in females who exhibit typical development until approximately five to 30 months when children with Rett Syndrome to regress. Especially in terms of motor skills and loss of abilities in other areas. A key indicator of Rett's Syndrome is the appearance of repetitive meaningless movements or gestures.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder -- involves a significant regression in skills that have previously been acquired, and deficits in communication, socialization, and/or restrictive and repetitive behavior.
Asperger's Syndrome sometimes considered a milder form of autism, Asperger’s is typically diagnosed later in life than other disorders on the spectrum. People with Asperger's Syndrome usually function in the average to above average intelligence range and have no delays in language skills, but often struggle with social skills and restrictive and repetitive behavior.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS) -- includes children that do not fully meet the criteria for the other specific disorders or those that do not have the degree of impairment associated with those disorders.
Individuals with autism interact with others differently. They often appear to live a life of isolation, have difficulty understanding and expressing emotion, and may express attachment in a different manner.
Approximately 40 percent of individuals with autism do not speak. Others have echolalia, a parrot-like repeating of what has been said to them. Persons with autism often have difficulty understanding the nonverbal aspect of language such as social cues, body language and vocal qualities (pitch, tone and volume).
Individuals with autism typically have difficulty relating to objects and events and a great need for "sameness" which makes them upset if objects in their environment or time schedules change. Children with autism may not "play" with toys in the same manner as their peers and may become fixated to specific objects.
Persons with autism may greatly overreact to sensory stimuli that they see, hear, touch, feel or taste. They may also not react at all to various stimuli from the environment.
Children with autism often have a different rate of development especially in the areas of communication, social and cognitive skills. In contrast, motor development may occur at a typical rate. Sometimes skills will appear in children with autism at the expected rate or time and then disappear.
Common Interventions and Treatments
A basic rule for treating autism is the earlier the intervention, the better. Coordinated, structured services that take into account the "whole person" and the person's family are most likely to be successful. Locate an Easter Seals near you for services in your area.
Speech therapy includes specialized therapeutic services designed to assist individuals with autism in verbal and non-verbal communication development.
Picture Exchange Communication System is a functional communication training approach that emphasizes teaching students to give a picture of something they desire to another person in exchange for that item.
Facilitated communication is a technique that requires that a trained professional support the hand, arm or shoulder of a person with communication impairments to help them either press keys of a communication device or write out desired words.
Augmentative Devices includes communication aids such as electronic devices that are often used to support communication.
Sign includes programs that teach sign language to individuals with autism who have had difficulty developing speech.
Social Skills Training - A variety of diverse training techniques that may assist persons with autism in learning to recognize social cues, communicate in social situations, or demonstrate the ability to walk. As with other treatments, this training will vary depending on the individual need.
Social Stories - a technique that presents appropriate social behaviors in the form of the story. The goal is to help persons by teaching them to take the perspective of other people in given situations.
Contact for Help and Information
233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 2400
Chicago, IL 60606
Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue -- Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20814-3067
800.328.8476 or 301.657.0881 phone
2 Park Avenue -- 11th Floor
New York, NY 10016