What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) refers to a collection of autism related disorders. These disorders are currently identified under the heading of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) and include Autism, PDD-Not Otherwise Specified, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. ASDs are the third most common childhood disorder.
All of these disorders involve three general areas of concern:
- Reciprocal social interaction
- Communication skills
- Restricted, repetitive and/or stereotypical patterns of behaviour and activities.
Sensory and motor planning difficulties may also be present.
ASDs generally appear between birth and eighteen to twenty-four months of age. Early diagnosis and assessment can facilitate timely treatment.
What are the different Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Children with autism often experience atypical development in their communication abilities and social interaction with peers. They may have limited interests, variable behavioural patterns and difficulty with imaginative play. Their understanding and use of non-verbal communication such as eye contact, facial expressions and gestures may be limited. They are most comfortable with predictable routines and familiar activities.
Children with Autism may demonstrate a delay in the development of fine and gross motor skills and intellectual abilities. Difficulties with eating and sleeping are also common. Autism is four times more common in males than in females.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Children with PDD-NOS demonstrate characteristics similar to children with Autism but the identified concerns are fewer in number and less severe. Their social interaction skills may be further developed as they may relate well with family members but may have more difficulty interacting with peers. PDD-NOS and related characteristics are generally observed prior to three years of age.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome generally experience normal development of communication skills and intellectual abilities in early childhood. However, their ability to use language effectively in social situations is often reduced. Associated characteristics may include uncoordinated motor abilities, repetitive routines and rituals, obsessive compulsive behaviour, unusual speech quality and impaired non-verbal communication. Asperger’s syndrome is judged to be the most common of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Who can help?
A physician or a psychologist who is experienced in the diagnosis of ASD, Asperger’s or PDD-NOS can help determine if your child has one of these disorders.
A speech-language pathologist who has experience working with children with ASD can provide assessment and treatment of communication difficulties related to ASD. He or she can recommend specific strategies to facilitate the development of functional social communication skills and overall communication abilities. The use of augmentative and alternative communication strategies can help both verbal and non-verbal children understand and use language.
A speech-language pathologist often works as part of a team, which can include parents, educators, behaviour therapists, physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists and other professionals. A team approach promotes coordination of assessment and treatment at home, at school, and in the community.
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