According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV( DSM-IV) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) autism is defined as " a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors."
What exactly does this mean to the parents, teachers, caregivers, and the mental health professionals who work with children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism?
Signs and Symptoms
For most people autism is characterized by its symptoms and associated behaviors. Clinicians will look at two principle areas when determining who is autistic: 1) social interaction and communication; and 2) the presence of repetitive behaviors and/ or fixed interests. Usually, defects in these two areas are first detected by parents or caregivers and present themselves in early childhood.
Below are some of the signs, symptoms, and behaviors that may indicate an individual has ASD.
- unresponsive to others (including close family members)
- avoids or lacks eye contact
- obsessive focus on one object or item to the exclusion of all others
- difficulty interpreting feelings and emotions of others
- appears to lack empathy
- repetitive movements such as rocking, twirling, or head banging
- failure to use personal pronouns like (I or me)
- no babbling or pointing at objects by 6 mos.
- no words by 16 mos., or two-word phrases by 2 years of age
- loss of language or social skills (regression)
- lining up toys or other objects rather than playing with them appropriately
- no smiling
- inability to make friends
- inability to carry on sustained conversation or carries on long winded one-sided conversations
- no imaginative or social play
Screening for autism is now carried out by doctors, mental health professionals, and even some parents using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) that was first developed by researchers in Great Britain. Although much has been learned and written about the signs and symptoms of autism, both the cause and possible cures still elude researchers.