Autism is often referred to as a spectrum disorder,
meaning that the symptoms and
characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations,
from mild to severe. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children
and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity.
Two children, both with a diagnosis of autism, can act very differently from one another.
Professionals utilize a diagnostic handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
now in its fourth edition (DSM-IV). Several autism-related disorders are grouped under
the broad heading "Pervasive Developmental Disorder" or PDD: Autism, PDD-NOS
(pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified), Asperger's syndrome and
Rett's syndrome. These four diagnoses are used differently by professionals to describe
individuals who manifest some, but not all, of the autism characteristics. The diagnosis
of autism is made when a specified number of characteristics listed in the DSM-IV are
present, in ranges inappropriate for the child's age. In contrast, a diagnosis of PDD-NOS
may be made when a child exhibits fewer symptoms than in autism, although those
symptoms may be exactly the same as a child with an autism diagnosis. Asperger's
and Rett's syndrome display the most marked differences from autism.
Therefore, most professionals will agree that there is
no standard "type" or "typical"
person with autism. Parents may hear more than one label applied to the same child:
autistic-like, learning disabled with autistic tendencies, high functioning or low
functioning autism. These labels don't describe differences between the children as
much as they indicate differences between the professionals' training, vocabulary,
and exposure to autism.
The differences in children's behaviors are often very
subtle. Each diagnosis relies
on observation of the child and the whether or not the professional is well educated
on autism will certainly affect which label is used. Many professionals believe that the
distinction between autism and PDD-NOS is not significant. Some believe they are
"sparing" the parents by giving a diagnosis of PDD-NOS rather than autism. Many
professionals still argue whether or not Asperger's is really a form of autism. What is
most important to understand is that whatever the autism diagnosis, children are
likely to benefit from similar approaches to education and treatment.
From the Autism Society of America's web page [http://www.autism-society.org]
'What is Autism?" developed and maintained on behalf of the ASA by Catriona Johnson & Ben Dorman.
Autism Society of America, 7910 Woodmont Ave, Suite 650, Bethesda, MD 20814-3015
tel: 1-800-3AUTISM (301) 657-0881; fax: (301) 657-0869.
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