When Autism Strikes
Autism Spectrum Disorders - What we know, what we don't and what we can do?
The word “autism” comes from the Greek word autos, meaning “self.” It’s been used for about 100 years to describe a condition in which people can’t engage in social interaction. Originally, it was thought to be associated with schizophrenia. In 1943, Leo Kanner, MD, known as the father of child psychiatry for his pioneering work related to autism, first identified the disorder at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.1 Also in the early 1940s, German scientist and pediatrician Hans Asperger, MD, identified patients with similarly withdrawn behavior, now known as Asperger’s syndrome.2
Today, autism is better defined by the term “autism spectrum disorder,” which describes a grouping of various developmental disabilities. Symptoms of ASD usually begin before the age of 3 and continue throughout a person’s life. In some infants, there are early signs of the disorder, such as not wanting to cuddle, lack of eye contact, or abnormal responses to touching and affection. Other early signs include the inability to follow objects visually, not responding to his or her name being called, and lack of facial expressions, such as smiling.3 Some children with ASD develop normally until the age of 1 or 2, then stop learning new skills or lose the ones they already have learned.
Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders:
There are three main classifications of ASD and understanding the difference among them will help to better focus treatment. The first classification of ASD is autistic disorder, which is considered the classic form of autism. Patients usually have significant delays in language, social skills, and the ability to communicate. Some have unusual behaviors and interests, and have a measurable intellectual disability.
The second form of autism is Asperger’s syndrome, usually a milder form of autism. Patients still have delays in social abilities and communication skills, and have unusual behaviors and interests.4 Many individuals have a specific interest that encompasses much of their time and thought. People with Asperger’s may spend much of their time devoted to a hobby (e.g, trains, computers). They usually don’t have issues with language skills or intellectual development. In fact, many are intelligent, especially when it comes to their own special interests. Some experts liken patients with Asperger’s to little professors in their areas of interest; they can have near genius IQs.
The third form of autism is pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, or atypical autism. These individuals meet only some of the criteria for classic autism or Asperger’s. They have fewer, milder symptoms and may experience delays only in the areas of social skills and communication.
Research studies have observed several imbalances in autism spectrum disorders.