Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a range of developmental disorders that become apparent in childhood and persist in adulthood. Broadly referred to as just autism, ASDs represent the variety of symptoms and severity within the well-known condition. Still, they all have some common characteristics, including:
- Problems with social interaction stemming from being unable to understand people’s feelings and emotions, often taking what they say literally
- Impaired language and communication skills, often including late language development and leading to an inability to properly take part in conversations
- Repetitive physical and mental routines which are developed early on and cause considerable upset if broken
The NHS points out that there are three types of ASDs:
Autistic disorder, sometimes known as “classic autism“ – children with this disorder have significant problems with language, behaviour and social interaction, as well as learning difficulty
Asperger’s syndrome – children with Asperger’s have less severe symptoms and are often able to lead independent lives. They struggle most with social interaction and certain areas of language but often develop intense interests, which they excel in
Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which is also known as “atypical autism“ – this diagnosis is used for those children who display some, but not all, the characteristics of Autistic disorder or Asperger’s syndrome. Their symptoms are usually milder.
It is estimated that ASDs affect just over 1% of American children. Symptoms can begin to appear when babies are as young as 12 months, but often become obvious at around age 2. Diagnosing children as early as possible can lead to early intensive therapy which can sometimes lead to significant improvements in their life.
The exact cause of autism is unknown, but there are many theories that certain inherited genes could be the cause. Health authorities mostly claim that there is very little evidence to suggest a link between ASDs and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
There is no known cure for ASDs but a variety of treatments are available to help the sufferer lead an independent life and function within social settings. Some popular therapies include:
- Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) which may help to improve social functioning and communication. This type of therapy involves seeing a clinical psychologist or trained therapist, who rewards good behaviour with praise and sets out a consistent and structured way of dealing with challenging or harmful behaviour
- Conginitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also help combat negative thoughts and behaviour
- Various special teaching programmes and occupational therapy to help the sufferer assimilate into his or her environment and not fall behind on school work
- Drugs may sometimes be prescribed to deal with obsessive or hyperactive behaviour and severe depression
Click here to read about World Autism Awareness Day and Dan Aykroyd’s battle with Asperger’s.