Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a neurological disorder that affects the development of the brain, causing difficulty with communication, learning, and social interaction. It is one of several Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) – also know as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD)- that include Asperger’s Syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

What are the symptoms of autism?

Communication: language develops slowly or not at all; gestures are absent or are limited and atypical. Loss of language occurs in some cases.

Social interaction: Child shows little interest in making friends; initiates social interactions only to have immediate needs met; and tends not to share accomplishments and experiences.

Behaviors: Intensely repetitive motor movements or use of objects; child is consumed with a single item, idea or person; experiences difficulty with changes in the environment or transitioning from one situation to another; has frequent tantrums; and exhibits aggressive or self-injurious behavior.

What are some of the first signs:

• Does not babble or coo by 12 months
• Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
• Does not say single words by 16 months
• Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
• Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age

How prevalent is autism?

The most recent studies report that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) occur in approximately one in every 88 births in the United States. ASD is the second most common serious developmental disability, following mental retardation. Autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than girls.

How is autism diagnosed?

There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism, but when parents become concerned about development delays in children, they should consult a physician. He or she can rule out various potential medical issues, such as hearing problems. Before a child can be diagnosed with autism, that child should be evaluated by an autism specialist. Such a person may be a psychologist, psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, or developmental pediatrician whose focus is on diagnosing and treating children with ASD.

The diagnosis of autism is made when certain characteristics listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) are present in ranges that are inappropriate for the child’s age. The diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) is made when a child exhibits fewer symptoms than are present in autism, although the symptoms that are exhibited may be similar to those seen in a child with an autism diagnosis.  Changes to the DSM are currently pending regarding Austism diagnosis and ASD.  These changes are due to take affect in May of 2013.