Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism is a severe disruption of the normal developmental processes that occurs in the first three years of life. The disorder, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), leads to impaired language, play, cognitive, social and adaptive functioning, causing children to fall farther and farther behind their peers as they grow older. ASDs affect each child in different ways and can range from very mild to severe. The cause is unknown, but evidence points to physiological causes such as neurological abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are almost five times more common among boys than among girls. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder.
Children with ASD do not learn in the same way that children typically learn. They seem to not understand simple verbal and nonverbal communication, respond differently to sensory input, and withdraw in varying degrees from people and the world around them. They show little interest in other children and tend not to learn by observing and imitating others. They become preoccupied with certain activities and objects, commonly referred to as stereotypic or self-stimulatory behavior, that interfere with development of play.
Signs and Symptoms
Most children with ASD can be reliably diagnosed by the age of 3, although earlier diagnosis is possible even as young as 12 months. Parents are usually the first to notice the difference in their child. Some of the peculiarities are noted as early as the first few months after birth, but most often are noted between the ages of 1 and 3. Some parents report a sudden regression and onset of social aloofness, while other parents report a lack of progress after the children has reached certain developmental milestones. In her paper, “Practice Parameter: Screening & Diagnosis of Autism,” Dr. Pauline Filipek, et al., noted some indicators warranting further evaluation:
- No babbling, pointing, or other gesture by 12 months
- No single words by 16 months
- No 2-word spontaneous (not echolalic) phrases by 24 months
- Any loss of language or social skills at any age