Autistic Spectrum Disorder is essentially an umbrella term that incorporates Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Autistic Spectrum Disorder is not a psychological disorder but rather as a result of diverse biochemical causes affecting the functioning of the brain and therefore is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder. Autistic Spectrum Disorder affects children in three different areas known as “The Triad of Impairments”.
- Communication/Speech and Language
- Social Interaction
- Thinking and Behaviour
Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder can fall on a continuum with regard to their intelligence. In addition, autistic spectrum disorders are complex in that children are affected differently. Thus two children with the same diagnosis may present with different behaviours, abilities, symptoms and struggles. Therefore, whilst any child with this disorder has problems to some extent, (with social skills, communication and behaviour), no child will be exactly the same.
What are the types of autistic spectrum disorders?
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
There are two other disorders but are not as common as the aforementioned (Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett Syndrome). Since the Autism Spectrum Disorders share many similar symptoms, it may be impossible to distinguish one from the other, especially in a child’s early life. However, many would manifest the following symptoms:
Difficulties in Social Interaction:
- Very limited interest or awareness in other people, or sharing interests and accomplishments (such as looking to see if mum or dad has seen them succeed in something like stacking blocks on top of each other or showing parents a drawing or pointing to a dog etc.)
- Lack of understanding or cognisance of other people’s feelings
- Limited or absent ability to make appropriate social contact, in other words the child won’t approach others or may prefer to be alone and can therefore appear to be aloof or disinterested
- In less severe cases the youngsters may accept social contact, for example if another youngster wants to play with them, however is unlikely to make spontaneous approaches and prefers to play alone
- Difficulty with making friends and/or maintaining friendships
Difficulties in Communication/Speech and Language:
- Delays in speech
- Limited reaction to verbal participation from others and may come across as having hearing difficulties
- Absent or unusual facial expressions or gestures
- Difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations
- Tone of speech is unusual, typically flat and monotonous or inappropriate variations in tone or with an unusual rhythm or pitch
- Repetition of words, questions and phrases, as well as words and phrases being used incorrectly as well as endless monologues about their special interests
- May have difficulty understanding statements or questions
- May be too literal, and can miss irony, humour or any abstract communication
Disruptions in Thinking and Behaviour:
- Imaginative play is limited or absent, for example, will have difficulty “pretending” a block is a telephone and has generally restricted ability to engage in other imaginative activities
- Engages in certain activities repetitively and cannot be persuaded by alternative suggestions
- Unusual habits such as rocking, spinning toys, arranging toys in lines etc.
- A need for rigid adherence to routines, structures and order and can get very unsettled by changes to their routine or environment
- Clumsiness or an unusual posture
Furthermore, it is likely that other signs will be noted as well such as:
- No eye contact (or very limited)
- Sensory processing difficulties
- Fearless of activities or acts that are deemed dangerous
- Self-injury such as hitting head etc.
- Difficulty regulating their emotions or expressing their feelings appropriately
Although there is no cure for Autistic Spectrum Disorders, it is possible to help the individual to manage their symptoms in order to optimize their functioning. If you are concerned about your child displaying some of the symptoms contact a professional that deals with the disorders for a comprehensive evaluation. The professionals who are involved in the diagnosis and the treatment of a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorders include: Child Psychologists; Child Psychiatrists; Speech and Language Therapists; Physiotherapists; Occupational Therapists; Audiologists; Paediatric Neurologists and Developmental Paediatricians and Remedial Therapists.