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Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The preferred current term for describing children & youth with autism-related disorders is Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This term refers to the broad range of subtypes that fall on the spectrum of autism & pervasive developmental disorders.  Specific groups within the spectrum include Autistic Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorders not otherwise specified & Atypical Autism. There are other forms on the spectrum, but these are the primary subgroups of Autism.

ASD characterized by severe & pervasive impairment in several areas of development:

  • difficulty interacting normally with others such as speech, language, and communication impairments (delayed speech, echolalia)
  • difficulty with reciprocal social interaction skills
  • presence of stereotyped behavior, interests and activities
  • insistence on environmental sameness; resistance to changes in routines
  • self stimulating responses
  • sensitivities in the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste)

Some individuals have no means of communication other than gesturing, engaging in tantrum behavior, and physically manipulating others in an attempt to get what they want. They may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking) and unusual responses to people, or attachments to objects. This lack of ability to communicate is very frustrating not only for the individuals with disabilities, but also for the parents and educators who work with them. However, it is not unusual for individuals to have normal physical growth & development, average or above average intelligence, and some have isolated and unique skills, knowledge and abilities.

The onset of ASD occurs early in life & although the prognosis is generally considered to be poor, research continually supports improved prognoses for children who receive early intervention. Interventions & treatments include: interpersonal relationships, skill-based treatments, cognitive methods, physiological/biological/neurological approaches & other treatments and approaches. A psychologist may be able to assist.

Asperger's Disorder

Asperger’s Disorder (AD) is on the autism spectrum, which in turn is considered a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). A pervasive developmental disorder is one which involves impairment in many different areas of development, including emotion, behaviour, communication and socializing. Some professionals believe that AD is a completely separate entity from autism, while most assert that AD is a form of high-functioning (less severe) autism. The difference between autism and AD is quite clear even to the casual observer, and is based simply on level of functioning.

Many people with AD have difficulty with motor skill development, and some are sensitive to certain sensations such as touch, light and sound. Unlike other types of PDD, people with Aspergers’ Disorder typically do not have difficulty with cognitive development. They most often develop language skills normally, though the way they use language may sometimes seem odd to others. One of the hallmarks of AD is seeming socially odd. On the other hand, people with AD may be very academically successful, and often have really incredible memories for facts.

Often, children with AD function well at home at a preschool level. Beginning school can be very difficult as the social demands start to overwhelm the child with AD. The way that such children interact with peers often takes the form of one of two extremes: either being very withdrawn, or conversely, being so intrusive as to seem aggressive. The problem lies in the difficulty that the child with AD has in interpreting others’ emotions. It has been said that a person with AD is not connected with the notion that others have emotions too. This social difficulty most usually hits home before junior high school, when children are at the age where social relationships assume primacy. Most preteens and teens with AD simply do not have the skills to “fit in,” and this can be quite a painful time for them.

Asperger’s Disorder is widely assumed to be a biological illness, stemming from differences in the brain between people with AD and people without. There is even some evidence that the basis of AD is genetic, though researchers have yet to identify a particular gene. Most professionals agree that, while there is no cure for AD, it can be eased through treatment including Social Skills Therapy. As with all developmental disorders, treatment success is governed by “the earlier the better.” Assessment is best conducted as soon as you begin to believe that your child is not behaving or functioning the same as his or her peers.

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