Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are considered to be neurological disorders, which means that they affect how the brain functions. Autism Spectrum Disorderss affect each child differently, to different degrees of severity. However, all children with Autism Spectrum Disorders share difficulties in 3 areas: social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. Two children with the same disorder can act differently and can have different skills. A child’s ability to learn and think can vary from being gifted to being severely challenged. Some children who are mildly affected may show only slight delays in language and more difficulty with social skills. A child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may have average to above average verbal, memory, or spatial skills, but may find it hard to be imaginative or to participate in activities with his or her friends. Other children may be more severely affected and may need more help with day-to-day activities.
The term Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a specific diagnosis. It is a general term that includes the following diagnoses: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (including the less common Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett’s Disorder). There are no specific medical tests for diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders. An accurate diagnosis should be based on observation of a child’s behaviors, communication, social skills, and developmental level. A diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or any other developmental disability, is based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition, the main diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals in the United States.