Signs and Symptoms
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of developmental disabilities – including classic autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s Syndrome – that affect a person’s ability to understand what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. It is a brain disorder that impacts communication, social interaction, and behavior.
Facts and Stats
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the second most common developmental disability following intellectual disability. ASD is more common than childhood cancer, cystic fibrosis, and multiple sclerosis combined. It is estimated that up to 1 out of every 68 children born today has some form of ASD. Evidence suggests that the prevalence rate in Georgia is even higher than the national average, at 1 in 64.
When parents or support providers become concerned that their child is not following a typical developmental course, they turn to experts, including psychologists, educators and medical professionals, for a diagnosis.
At first glance, some people with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing issues, or problems with hearing or vision. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism. However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, as an accurate and early autism diagnosis can provide the basis for an appropriate educational and treatment program.
We do not know all of the causes of ASD. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.
Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.4 In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting the theory that the disorder has a genetic basis. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that children with autism may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single “trigger” that causes autism to develop.
Asperger’s syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder) was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who observed autism-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s syndrome was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals. Uta Frith, a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of University College London and editor of Autism and Asperger Syndrome, describes individuals with Asperger’s as “having a dash of autism.”
Autism is a Spectrum Disorder (ASD) beginning in childhood and typically involving challenges in communication, socialization, and rigid, inflexible patterns of behavior. (See Diagnosis Section). While having particular challenges, many individuals on the spectrum often have special talents that equal or even exceed those of other “neuro-typical” peers. While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, individuals on the spectrum are lifelong learners and benefit greatly from treatments involving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), visual supports, and functional communication training. Individuals on the spectrum typically respond well to highly structured, and predictable habilitative and educational programs designed to meet their individual needs and desires.