A Definition of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Question: A Definition of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders

What is autism? How is it defined?

Answer: Autism is a short way of saying "autism spectrum disorder." Its symptoms include differences and disabilities in many areas including social communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, and sometimes intellectual skills as well as unusual responses to sensory input (unusual sensitivity to light, sound, etc., and/or sensory cravings).

Autism is also a spectrum disorder. In basic terms, this means you can be a little autistic or very autistic. Until May, 2013, there were five different autism spectrum diagnoses. At one end of the spectrum was Asperger Syndrome, sometimes called The Little Professor syndrome. At at the other end of the spectrum was autistic disorder, known for profound developmental delays and challenges. In between were a variety of pervasive developmental disorders including Rett syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Today, with the publication of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual Version 5) there is only one diagnostic category for people with autism: autism spectrum disorder. Anyone with symptoms consistent with autism will receive an ASD diagnosis -- along with a functional level (1, 2, or 3) and, if appropriate, specifiers. Some common specifiers include cognitive disabilities, seizure disorders, and so forth.



Autism Society of America Website

Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders) National Institute of Mental Health, 2004.

Greenspan, Stanley. "The Child with Special Needs." C 1998: Perseus Books.

Romanowski, Patricia et al. "The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome." C 2000: Crown Publishers, New York, NY.

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