Autism and autistic spectrum disorders

Autism is a group of similar disorders with varying degrees of severity. So the term autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) is often used rather than autism.

Autism is actually one form of ASD. Other forms include Asperger's syndrome and Rett's syndrome. People with Asperger's syndrome tend to have fewer problems with language compared to people with classical autism. They are often of average, or above average, intelligence.

What are the symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders?

Symptoms usually become apparent in the first three years of life. Half of parents become concerned in the first 12 months. Some children with Asperger's syndrome are only diagnosed after they have started school.

The symptoms of ASD vary between people. Some have minimal symptoms whereas others may have severe difficulties. People with ASD have varying levels of intelligence. A few have very high IQs, but a low IQ is found in about 5 out of 10 people with ASD.

There are four different groups of symptoms, all of which usually occur in children with ASD.

Social difficulties

There are different types of problems and not all will occur in each case. These can generally be described as 'not being able to get on with people'. So the child may:

  • Seem to be aloof.
  • Have little or no interest in other people which can result in having no real friends.
  • Not understand other people's emotions. For example, not understanding why anyone has been cross with them.
  • Prefer being alone.

Sometimes a child may seem to lose social skills that they once had. This may be skills such as waving goodbye. This is found in about 1 out of 4 cases.

Problems with language and communication

Speech usually develops later than usual. When it does, the language (the use and choice of words) may not develop well. The sort of problems that children with ASD may have include one or more of the following:

  • Not being able to express themselves well.
  • Not being able to understand gestures, facial expressions, or tone of voice.
  • Saying odd things. For example, repeating your words back to you, time and time again.
  • Using odd phrases and odd choices of words.
  • Sometimes using many words when one would do.
  • Making up their own words.
  • Not using their hands to make gestures as they speak.
  • Not being able to understand difficult orders.