About the Work Group on Autism Research and Training

What are the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)?


Autism Spectrum Disorders affect three major areas of development:

  • Communication
  • Social Skills
  • Behavior

Communication concerns include delayed speech, lack of gestures such as pointing, or the continuous repeating of certain words or sounds.  This can range from an individual who is nonverbal to not being able to interpret body language or to participate comfortably in two-way conversation.

Social concerns may include poor eye contact, lack of interest in other children, or not being able to appropriately interact with people.  This can range from isolating oneself from others socially to experiencing social awkwardness in attaining and maintaining ongoing relationships.

Behaviors that are repetitive and unusual might include strict adherence to routines or obsessive interests, flapping of hands, or walking on tiptoes.  Individuals may exhibit rigidity in thought processes, which can include difficulty with learning abstract concepts, generalizing information, and tolerating changes in routines and/or environments.

When each of these areas are delayed or there is a lack of specific skills, the diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder may be given.  Autism is a syndrome, which means that it is a condition defined by the existence of a collection of characteristics.  Autism spectrum disorders can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 3, although new research is pushing back the age of diagnosis to as early as 6 months.  It is a life-long developmental disability that impairs typical development. 

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autistic disorder

When a child meets all the necessary criteria listed in the DSM-IV-TR the diagnosis of  Autistic disorder is given.  Children with Autistic disorder have problems with language skills that are absent, delayed, or abnormal.  They have difficulty in relating to others socially, understanding the give-and-take of everyday interactions, and problems with interpreting what others are thinking.  Some children will have intellectual deficits and others may appear to have deficits because it is difficult to obtain reliable scores on intelligence tests due to lack of cooperation.  Repetitive behaviors are usually present in the form of odd repetitive motions and/or a persistent preoccupation with objects or routines. 

Asperger's disorder (Asperger's syndrome)

A developmental disorder characterized by a lack of social skills; difficulty with social relationships; poor coordination and concentration; and a restricted range of interests with normal intelligence and adequate language skills in the areas of vocabulary and grammar.  An individual with Asperger's Disorder does not possess a significant delay in language development; however, he or she may have difficulty understanding the subtleties used in conversation, such as irony and humor.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS)

Children with PDDNOS do not fully meet the criteria of symptoms to diagnose any of the four specific types of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (i.e., Autistic Disorder; Rett's Disorder; Childhood Disintegrative Disorder; Asperger's Disorder) and do not have the degree of impairment described in any of the previous listed types. It means that autistic-like characteristics affect the child across developmental areas, but there are not enough characteristics to warrant a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder or Asperger's Disorder.

Less common Pervasive Development Disorders are Rett's Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. These disorders cause severe regression after a period of typical development to the point where the child is extremely impaired.

Medical Home

Our belief at the CCHD is to encourage the establishment of a medical home.  As defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics it is a place of care that is continuous, comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally responsive to the needs of families.  It involves the cooperation between the parents, pediatrician, and other health care professionals to work together with others that support the child.  This typically involves the child’s educational and developmental supports.  A medical home is particularly important for children with special needs who are likely to require specialized care and services, follow-up and care coordination. 

“As a parent you will probably become quite knowledgeable in regards to your child’s developmental disability. You are the constant in your child’s life. The knowledge and opinions that you bring to any setting should be recognized and respected.”

Source: Adapted from www.aap.org


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