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What are ASD's?

Today we know much more about the complex nature of Autism Spectrum Disorders, the umbrella term used to cover a range of neurobiological disorders that are usually lifelong and affect the way people communicate and relate to others and the world around them.

The main ASDs are:

  • Autistic disorder (or infantile autism or childhood autism)
  • Asperger’s disorder (where a child has good, often precocious verbal skills)
  • Atypical autism (also referred to as Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS where a child displays some characteristics of autism but not all)

People affected by autism usually display difficulties in three areas:

  • Social interaction, social communication and social imagination (poor eye contact, no interest in peers)
  • Communication (delayed language or no language)
  • Behaviour (restricted interests and repetitive behaviours)

These are commonly referred to as the Triad of Impairments but the impairments may not be evenly spread. While people with autism share common traits, no two individuals are the same. For example, it was once thought that all children with ASD were unresponsive and aloof, never showing affection. We now know ASDs are much more complex with a variety of symptoms and characteristics that can occur in different combinations and varying degrees of severity.

Many people with an ASD also have sensory sensitivities, which may include over- or under-sensitivity to sight, touch, taste, smell, sound, temperature, and pain. Because of these sensory imbalances, they often experience overwhelming anxiety, frustration and confusion when faced with the demands of everyday life.

Recent international research suggests an average prevalence of autism in 1 in every 175 children (Insel, 2006). It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to affect boys than girls. To date, there is no known cause of ASDs and no cure, but early intervention programs and some therapies have helped many on the spectrum.