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Autism and Asperger Syndrome  

Pervasive Developmental disorder (PDD) is not one disease but really a set of five different but similar disorders, all characterized by delays or impairments in socialization and communication, as well as cognitive skills and behavior. All PDD have things in common, but each has specific characteristics that set it apart from the others. These disorders include:

  • PPD – not otherwise specified (PPD/NOS)
  • Autism
  • Asperger syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegration disorder

 The later two conditions are rare and will not be discussed. The first three conditions can be grouped together as Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) because of there similarities. As Cystitis (Bladder infections) and Nephritis (Kidney infections) are included in Urinary Tract Infections, Autism and Asperger syndrome are included in the group of disorders called ASD.

 Autism is a disorder that manifests as an inability to communicate with or respond to others. There is also a delay in cognitive development. This condition usually develops by the age of 2 ˝ years old and affects boys more often than girls. There is a wide range of expression of symptoms of this disorder and is included in a larger group of related disorders, called Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).

Autistic people have speech problems ranging from speech delay to being completely non-verbal. They may have normal intelligence or may be challenged mentally. They have an impaired ability to perceive social cues and to place themselves in the minds of others. This may result in difficulties holding down a job or having intimate relationships. Like all autistic spectrum conditions, Autism is present very early in life and people do not outgrow it. However, with the right supports, there is always the ability to improve drastically.

A child with Autism will:

  • seldom make eye contact.
  • fail to show appropriate facial expression, body position or gestures.
  • lack interest in things around them and have limited interests. This results in acting as if people do not exist, giving them no eye contact. Or, the other person may be treated as an object.
  • have no verbal communication or highly unusual communication. This can include an odd tone of voice (prosody), perseveration, inability to start and maintain a conversation, and idiosyncratic speech.
  • Restricted emotional expressiveness including a flat and faraway gaze.
  • have intense preoccupation with restricted patterns of interest. Examples include a preoccupation with numbers or with colors, or parts of particular objects.
  • tend to repeat actions, such as hand flapping, body rocking, grimacing, finger flicking, peculiar gait, odd posture and complex whole body movements.
  • have a need for inflexible and non-functional routines and rituals. Things are done in the exact same way each and every time, and there is great distress if this pattern is broken.
  • have extremely acute senses. They may be very sensitive to the gentlest touch, the slightest noise, and the mildest scent. They may recoil from the texture of food. And they may be unaware of pain, hunger, and not react to loud noises at all.

 Asperger Syndrome (AS) is generally considered to be a form of autism. Unlike the more severe forms of autism, people with AS exhibit little or no impairments in their speech (at most a mild delay in early childhood). But like many people with autism, they have a level of intelligence at least in the average range and often in the above-average or even superior ranges. And as with all other forms of autism it is characterized by varying degrees of deficits in social interactions and non-verbal communications. More specifically, people with AS have difficulties, sometimes severe, in perceiving the world from the perspective of another person and in “picking up” on the social “cues” (facial expressions, bodily gestures, tone of voice, etc.). As a result, having AS can mean having great abilities or talents in certain areas, but can also mean difficulty in living independently, holding down a job or having an intimate relationship.

There are numerous behaviors and traits that are commonly observed in individuals who have AS. These include:

  • very intense interests in highly specialized and often unusual areas (which can range from train routes and schedules to sports statistics to geographic or national facts to astronomy or even astrophysics) that preclude attention to or conversation about other subjects;
  • inflexible routines in personal habits (insistence on always doing things the same way) towards which there is great resistance to change;
  • repetitive bodily motions (such as flapping of the hands or feet and rocking back and forth);
  • awkward physical coordination (“clumsiness” and difficulty with sports);
  • unconventional body language, inappropriate facial expressions, and poor eye contact (which often causes others to misinterpret their intentions);
  • unusual speech patterns (such as a noticeably peculiar tone or modulation of voice);
  • atypical conversation (such as inappropriate remarks or irrelevant statements, and a formal “professorial” style of speaking that is more a lecture than a reciprocal conversation with another person);
  • strong tendencies to be very literal in understanding of spoken or written language (which can make them very susceptible to being fooled or tricked);
  • lack of awareness of their social environment or of the feelings of others (which can make them appear unemotional, not empathetic, or insensitive);
  • remarkable memory for facts or details;
  • exceptional abilities with numbers or patterns;
  • incessant repetition of favorite topics, expression, or words;

Treatment for all Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is similar. While there is no cure for ASD, early intervention and treatment can help to develop skills and achieve the child’s best potential. Therapy should be individualized because the presentation of symptoms can manifest in a wide range from mild to severe. Treatment includes individually tailored behavior modification programs.

Kids with disabilities are entitled to free preschool services at 3 years of age under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Check out the services offered by your local school district. For children younger than age 3, parents will work with the state's early intervention program to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) instead of an IEP. Also, states provide services, under the IDEA, for children with disabilities from birth through age 2 years through federally mandated early intervention programs.

For the school aged child, educational interventions can help shape a child's behaviors and improve speech and communication. Any education program must be tailored to the individual child. You can set up an individualized education plan (IEP) for your child though your local school district. An IEP should incorporate social skills and communication and have a high degree of structure. Maximized speech and language intervention is important, as is the use of behavior modification and rewards to try to stop problem behaviors and to encourage all types of communication.

Some kids do well in small classes with lots of one-on-one attention. Others do well in standard classrooms with support. The goal of treatment is to get kids with ASD to a point where they can be mainstreamed into a regular classroom, although they also might require special programs and support services, including speech-language therapy.