Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range, “a spectrum,” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.
People with ASD often have these characteristics:
Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. Treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. Families with concerns should talk to their pediatrician about what they’ve observed and the possibility of ASD screening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) around 1 in 68 children has been identified with some form of ASD.
In the past, Asperger’s syndrome and Autistic Disorder were separate disorders. They were listed as subcategories within the diagnosis of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders.” However, this separation has changed. The latest edition of the manual from the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), does not highlight subcategories of a larger disorder. The manual includes the range of characteristics and severity within one category. People whose symptoms were previously diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome or Autistic Disorder are now included as part of the category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Parents or doctors may first identify ASD behaviors in infants and toddlers. School staff may recognize these behaviors in older children. Not all people with ASD will show all of these behaviors, but most will show several. There are two main types of behaviors: “restricted / repetitive behaviors” and “social communication / interaction behaviors.”
People with ASD may have other difficulties, such as being very sensitive to light, noise, clothing, or temperature. They may also experience sleep problems, digestion problems, and irritability.
ASD is unique in that it is common for people with ASD to have many strengths and abilities in addition to challenges.
Strengths and abilities may include:
Doctors diagnose ASD by looking at a child’s behavior and development. Young children with ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by age two.
Older children and adolescents should be evaluated for ASD when a parent or teacher raises concerns based on watching the child socialize, communicate, and play.
Diagnosing ASD in adults is not easy. In adults, some ASD symptoms can overlap with symptoms of other mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, getting a correct diagnosis of ASD as an adult can help a person understand past difficulties, identify his or her strengths, and obtain the right kind of help.