Autism: Understanding the Spectrum

Getting a Well-Rounded View of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is more than just a single condition—there’s a spectrum. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves a complex set of developmental challenges that affect each person differently. With ASD affecting nearly 1 in 54 children in the United States, it is important to get a more well-rounded view of what this developmental disorder entails.

In light of Autism Month, the experts at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital are here to break down what autism is as well as the different types of ASD that fall along the spectrum.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also commonly called autism, is a developmental disability that refers to a broad range of conditions that cause significant challenges with communication, social skills, and behaviors. Because ASD is a spectrum condition, that means that it can affect individuals differently and can vary in its severity.

What Causes Autism?

While there are plenty of misconceptions about what causes autism, there is no one thing that causes autism spectrum disorder. However, there is evidence suggesting that certain risk factors leave an individual more likely to develop ASD.

These risk factors include:

  • Family history of ASD.
  • Advanced parental age of either parent.
  • Complications with pregnancy or birth.
  • Pregnancies that are less than one year apart.

It is also important to note that keeping your child up-to-date on their immunizations has no bearing on their autism diagnosis. With over 2 decades of research, the conclusions can be drawn that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.

Signs and Symptoms of ASD

Although symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person, there are a few common signs to look out for during the early developmental stages of childhood and throughout life.

These symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Losing previously learned skills.
  • No Longer using words previously used.
  • Trouble adapting to changes in routine.
  • Avoiding eye contact with others.
  • Strong desire to be alone.
  • Not noticing that other people are talking to them.
  • Interest in other people, but unsure how to interact with them.
  • Trouble articulating needs and wants verbally.
  • Intense reactions to colors, smells, tastes, textures, etc.
  • Difficulty understanding emotions.
  • Repetition of words, phrases, and sounds.
  • Delayed language development.
  • Aversion to being touched or hugged.
  • Not looking at objects being pointed to by others.
  • Not understanding the concept of sharing or taking turns.
  • Lack of facial expressions or unusual expressions.

It is also important to keep in mind that not everyone with autism will display all of these warning signs. It’s common for individuals to show anywhere from one to several of these symptoms. If you suspect that autism spectrum disorder may be present, it is essential that you seek professional evaluation for a proper diagnosis.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders

In recent years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) has merged the different types of autism into a single diagnosis for ASD. While the labels for official diagnosis have changed, the following terms may still be used when referencing certain symptoms and behaviors.

Autistic Disorder

When it comes to ASD, autistic disorder is considered “classic” autism and is typically what people think of when they hear the term autism. Usually on the more severe side of the spectrum, this type of autism was commonly associated with the following:

  • Trouble communicating.
  • Delays in language.
  • Issues with social interactions.
  • Having tantrums or meltdowns.
  • Low level of interest in others.

This type of ASD is also typically accompanied by intellectual disabilities.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger syndrome, or Asperger’s, is different from other forms of autism as these individuals don’t typically experience verbal or intellectual deficits. Although people with Asperger’s tend to have more mild symptoms than others diagnosed with ASD, they still face some of the classic signs and symptoms of ASD that are across the board.

Some difficulties that are more specific to Asperger’s include:

  • Struggling with social interactions.
  • Strong desire for sameness and routine.
  • Specific interests.
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sounds, tastes, textures, etc.
  • Trouble with nonverbal communication.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Anxiety and depression.

People with Asperger syndrome have a list of remarkable strengths that are unique from other forms of ASD. These strengths may include:

  • Heightened focus.
  • An affinity for recognizing patterns.
  • Attention to detail.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), also commonly called “atypical autism,” is a diagnosis given to those on the spectrum for ASD but does not fit the specific criteria needed for a diagnosis with autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome. In other words, this applies to people who have mild symptoms and some, but not all, characteristics of autism.

Similar to other forms of ASD, people with PDD-NOS may have challenges when it comes to verbal communication and social interaction while also having a broad range of intellectual abilities. For example, a person with PDD-NOS may face social issues while excelling in other areas.

PDD-NOS is also further specified into 3 specific subgroups:

  • Symptoms overlap with Asperger syndrome, but have a lag in language development and mild cognitive impairment.
  • Symptoms overlap with autistic disorder, but fail to meet all diagnostic criteria.
  • Symptoms meet the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder, however, symptoms and behaviors are on the mild side.

Pediatric Occupational Therapy in Ridgecrest, California

At Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, our resident pediatric occupational therapist w

Works with children of all ages helping them to grow, learn, and be more independent at school, play, and in the community. To learn more about our pediatric occupational therapy services, visit our website or give us a call at (760) 446-3551 (Mon-Fri 8 AM-4:30 PM).