The incidence of autism in young children is on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Symptoms of autism vary widely among different individuals, depending on where he/she falls within the autism spectrum.
The autism spectrum disorders are defined as disabilities of development. This means that the disorders do not have a single fixed etiology, or cause behind them, and are diagnosed based on developmental 'milestones' that a child is supposed to attain. Individuals with autism process information and stimuli differently than normal people.
A complex interplay of multiple genes and environmental factors is believed to underline the causes of autism. Since autism is not one single disorder but a whole spectrum of them, there is a range of symptoms from mild to severe that differentiate one type of ASD from another.
Types of ASD
Because of the nature of autism, it is not easy to differentiate between the different autism spectrum disorders. However, three broad of ASD have been defined. These are:
This is a severe form of autism, characterized by significant impairment of communication skills, intellectual abilities, and delayed and impaired acquisition of language. Individuals with this disorder, in most cases, cannot live independently and require assistance.
This is a rather well-known syndrome, not because of its prevalence in the general population, but because the media has often portrayed many famous artists and scientists of the past as having suffered from it during their lifetime.
Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome have neither language development delay nor any intellectual deficit. They cannot communicate normally with other people, and have a very limited social circle.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
This is the mildest form of autism. The people suffering from this can lead normal lives and may not even seem autistic, unless you've spent considerable time in their company.
Individuals with this form of autism are the hardest to diagnose because the symptoms are mild and may not be easily distinguishable from other developmental disorders. These people face social and communication problems, but it gets better with age.
Characteristics of individuals with mild autism
- They are not very perceptive; they are usually unable to understand others' feelings and have to be made aware of these by being told about them.
- They avoid making eye contact with other people.
- They tend not to be able to recognize that others have thoughts, motivations, desires, intentions that are unlike their own. They also tend to be confused and unsure about their own feelings.
- They avoid social situations, as these make them uncomfortable.
- They like to be alone most of the time.
- They are not social, so have few, if any, friends.
- They like to follow a certain routine and do not willingly stray from their routine under any circumstances.
- They are obsessed with small, trivial details.
- They find it difficult to interpret subtle gestures, changes in facial expressions, etc., of other people.
- They are seen to indulge in repetitive movements.
- They have little or no awareness of what others around them are doing.
- They cannot conduct or carry themselves well, when around other people.
- They have almost normal language development, unlike people with more severe forms of autism.
- They have an average or above-average IQ score.
Autism is a very protean disorder, and has so far eluded all efforts to compartmentalize it within fixed diagnostic criteria. Those with a mild form of the disorder are often quite capable of leading normal lives. It is necessary to recognize this and help them live with dignity, which is everyone's right.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for medical advice.