Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASDs, consist of five different categories of pervasive developmental disorders that primarily affect a child’s capacity to communicate and interact with others. Having an ASD usually means that the child in question will have severely restricted interests and will often engage in highly repetitive behaviour. The actual functioning levels within each class of ASD will vary enormously, and there is no such thing as a “typical” person with Austism.
The five pervasive developmental disorders that make up ASDs are:
• Autistic Disorder
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
• Rett’s Syndrome
• PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified)
Note that having Autism does NOT imply sickness, fragility, a lack of intelligence or emotional disturbance. Many people with Autism are bright, intellectually accomplished individuals and are more than capable of living full, rewarding lives. Don’t be fooled: most individuals with Autism understand exactly what’s going on just as much as you do. They simply react to things in a different way.
Placing people in boxes
The terminology of Autism can be bewildering at the best of times. The goal of understanding and defining Autism is still a work in progress and, as such, a lot of the traditional clinical descriptions that many people use in relation to Autism can be unhelpful. This is more a case of poor public awareness rather than outright discrimination or hatred.
In order to begin to understand the enormous scope of ASDs, it is necessary to set waypoints in the ASD roadmap. For instance, unlike people with full-blown Autistic Disorder, the most severe category of ASDs, those who have Asperger’s Syndrome won’t usually experience a substantial delay in their language development. In fact, you may know several people with Asperger’s and not even realise it. Then again, there are also many individuals who don’t have any variety of ASD at all, but possess Autistic-like traits, such as avoiding eye contact.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder tends to manifest itself with a small child suddenly losing most of the skills they had acquired in their first few years of life. Areas of significant damage will include the use of expressive and receptive language, social skills, adaptive behaviour, bowel or bladder control, and play or motor skills. This is also known as Regressive Autism. Many parents will see these symptoms quickly lead to Autistic Disorder with time.
People with Rett’s Syndrome have one major difference to other forms of Autism: after developing normally for their first five months of life, kids with Rett’s will experience a deceleration of head growth until they are around 4 years of age, making this the only form of ASD with a direct physical component.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, as the last three words indicate, is the diagnosis you get when a child with some form of ASD does not fit into the other four categories. It’s called PDD-NOS for short, or Atypical Autism.
Famous people with Autism
Dan Aykroyd: According to a 2007 article in The Guardian, actor Dan Aykroyd was expelled from two schools as a child for acting up. After that a psychiatrist diagnosed him with mild Asperger’s Syndrome. Aykroyd also had a few tics and showed signs of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Andy Warhol: We all know the soup cans painting, right? Dr Judith Gould, director of Eliot House, Britain’s leading diagnostic centre for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, suggests that Warhol’s love of repetition was actually a symptom of Autism.
Lewis Carroll: Did Lewis Carroll have Asperger’s Syndrome? Professor Michael Fitzgerald of Dublin’s Trinity College compared the behaviour of some patients with Asperger’s Syndrome with the behaviours of famous men and determined that some would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome had they been born today. Lewis was on his list.
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