About Autism

What Is Autism?

Autism is one of five disorders that falls under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development.”

The five disorders under PDD are:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
  • Rett’s Disorder
  • PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Each of these disorders has specific diagnostic criteria which are outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR); primary features from the DSM-IV-TR are:

  • Impairments in social interaction
  • Impairments in communication, receptive and/or expressive
  • Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities
  • Delays in imaginative or symbolic play

Characteristics of Autism

People with autism also process and respond to information in unique ways. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present. Persons with autism may also exhibit some of the following traits: 

  • Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
  • Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words
  • Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
  • Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason showing distress for
  • reasons not apparent to others
  • Preference to being alone; aloof manner
  • Tantrums
  • Aggressive or self-injurious behavior
  • Difficulty in mixing with others
  • Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
  • Little or no eye contact
    Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
  • Sustained odd play
  • Spinning objects
  • Obsessive attachment to objects
  • Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
  • No real fears of danger
  • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills
  • Non responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range.

There are also many myths and misconceptions about autism. Contrary to popular belief, many children with autism do make eye contact and are affectionate.  Many children with autism can develop conversational and/or functional language and others can develop some type of communication skills, such as sign language or use of pictures.

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