Autism is classified as one of the pervasive developmental disorders. Because it varies widely in its severity and symptoms, autism may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected individuals or in those with multiple handicaps.

Because there are no medical tests for autism, an accurate diagnosis must be based on observing the person's communication, behavior, and developmental levels. However, because many of the behaviors associated with autism are similar to other disorders, various medical tests may be ordered to rule out or identify other possible causes of symptoms.

Because the characteristics of the disorder vary, a child should be evaluated by a team including a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, occupational therapist, or other professionals experienced in autism. Problems in recognizing autism often lead to a lack of services to meet the complex needs of these individuals.

It is important to include history from parents and caregivers in coming to an accurate diagnosis. Some people with autism may seem to have developmental disabilities, a behavior disorder, problems with hearing, or eccentric behavior. It is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since early identification is required for an effective treatment program.

Specific diagnostic categories have changed over the years as research progresses and as new editions of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) have been issued. Some frequently used criteria include:

• Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play

• Impaired ability to make friends with peers

• Impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

• Stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language

• Restricted patterns of interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus

• Apparently inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

• Preoccupation with parts of objects children with some symptoms of autism, but not enough to be diagnosed with the classical form of the disorder, are often diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD—NOS). People with autistic behavior but well-developed language skills are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Children who appear normal in their first several years but then lose skills and begin showing autistic behavior may be diagnosed with childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD). Girls with rett syndrome, a sex-linked genetic disorder characterized by inadequate brain growth, seizures, and other neurological problems, also may show autistic behavior.

PDD—NOS, Asperger's disorder, CDD, and Rett syndrome are referred to as "autism spectrum disorders."

Since hearing problems can be confused with autism, children with delayed speech development should always have their hearing checked, although children may have hearing problems in addition to autism.


While there is no "cure" for the brain abnormalities that cause autism, patients can learn coping mechanisms and strategies to ease various symptoms. With appropriate treatment, many problem behaviors can be changed so that the child may appear to no longer have autism. However, most patients continue to show some faint symptoms to some degree throughout their entire lives. The best-studied therapies include educational/behavioral and medical interventions. Although these treatments do not cure autism, they often bring about substantial improvement.

Early intervention is crucial, and can provide dramatic improvements for young children with autism. While various preschool models may differ, all emphasize early, appropriate, and intensive educational interventions for young children. Other common factors may be

• Some degree of inclusion, mostly behaviorally based interventions

• Programs that build on the interests of the child

• Extensive use of visuals to accompany instruction

• Structured activities

• Parent and staff training

• Transition planning

Funny Wiring Autism

Funny Wiring Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.

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