Imagine finding the sound of ocean waves painful enough to make you scream, having anything touching your skin, including clothes, unbearable, or having something out of place in your house completely unravel you. These are among the myriad challenges that many children with autism endure every day.
Autism is known as a spectrum disorder. That is, autism has a group of symptoms that can range from mild to severe, and there are also differences in the nature of the symptoms and when they can appear. While the severity, onset and appearance of Autism Spectrum Disorders vary greatly, there are three core deficit areas found in all affected individuals: social interaction and atypical behavior.
Some children may not speak at all, while others talk to themselves for hours on end. Some children rarely interact with other people, while others are inclined to have constant, but nonconforming interactions. Some kids require strict routines, others exhibit repetitive movements like hand-flapping or rocking, while still others are fixated on objects, subjects or sensory stimulation. In a nutshell, each child with autism is affected differently than the next child who has the disorder.
Within the category of ASD, there are several subtypes:
Autism is the disorder that has received the most study and has been recognized for the longest time. It is defined by the presence of difficulties in each of the three areas listed above, with onset in at least one area by age 3 years. It may or may not be associated with language delays or mental retardation.
Asperger Syndrome is a form of ASD that is often identified later (e.g., after age 3, usually after age 5) and is associated with the social symptoms of autism and some repetitive interests or behaviors, but not with language delay or mental retardation. Many parents and professionals use this term with older and/or more verbally fluent individuals with autism because they feel it is less stigmatizing.
Rett Syndrome and Child Disintegrative Disorder are both very rare, severe forms of ASD that have particular patterns of onset, and, in the case of Rett Syndrome, a specific genetic basis.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a form of ASD used to describe individuals who meet criteria for autism in terms of social difficulties but not in both communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors. It can also be used for children who do not have clearly defined difficulties under age 3 or later. Professionals often use this term when they are not quite sure of a diagnosis or when the symptoms are mild. Several epidemiological studies have reported that as many or more children have PDD-NOS or less clear symptoms as have classic autism. The difficulties of children and adults with Asperger Syndrome or PDD-NOS are similar, and milder than those of individuals with autism, suggesting that these distinctions are fairly arbitrary and should not be used to limit services or benefits.