On Autistic Disorder

In my years in the field of mental health, I’ve had the privilege to work briefly with children who had Autistic Disorder. That brief time gave me a tremendous amount of respect for these children, those who work with them regularly as well as the parents who care for them around the clock. The degree of impairment in each child was sometimes drastically different. Some didn’t move from the same spot all day, staring out into space and rocking back and forth while others were very mobile and verbal (even if I couldn’t understand a word they were saying). Most of them were very rigid however in appearance, behavior and psychomotor activity.

If you haven’t done so already, you may want to read the post I wrote on Pervasive Developmental Disorders in order to get a better understanding of Autistic Disorder and all of the other Pervasive Developmental Disorders under the Autism Spectrum.

Autistic Disorder shares a lot in common with all the previously discussed Pervasive Developmental Disorders and is sometimes referred to as early infantile autism or childhood autism. To add to the confusion of labeling, some professionals use Autistic Disorder to describe all five of the pervasive developmental disorders (Autistic Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Asperger’s disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) under the Autistic spectrum.

Brief Introduction to Autistic Disorder

Autistic Disorder is four times more common in boys than in girls. Children with Autistic Disorder have a moderate to severe range of communication, behavior problems and socialization abilities. Many of them also have mental retardation. It is also thought to be high genetic.

Like all of the other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, parents of children with Autistic Disorder normally notice signs within the first two to three years of life. They usually develop gradually, but sometimes the child will develop normally at first and then regress.

Early behavioral and cognitive interventions are essential in helping children with Autistic Disorder learn to improve their skills of self-care, communication and socialization. Most children with the disorder will never live independently as adults and while there is no cure, they have been reported cases of children who have appeared to recover from it.

Diagnostic Criteria for Autistic Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) uses these criteria to aid in the diagnosis of Autistic Disorder.

  1. Six or more items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):
      1. qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
        1. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
        2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
        3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
        4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity
    1. qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
      1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
      2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
      3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
      4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
    1. restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
      1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
      2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
      3. stereotyped and repetitive motor manners (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
      4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
  2. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.
  3. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

For more information visit http://www.autismspeaks.org

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