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Autism—the Basics
By Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
What Is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder. It impairs an individual’s ability to interact socially, communicate clearly and effectively, and behave appropriately.
What Are Some Signs/Symptoms of Autism?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition lists several factors that can lead to a diagnosis of autism.
Social Interaction
Impairments can include:
  • difficulty using nonverbal behaviors such as eye-gaze, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures.
  • difficulty forming peer relationships.
  • difficulty seeking out others for the purpose of sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements.
  • difficulty with the “back-and-forth” nature of relationships for social or emotional purposes.
Communication
Impairments can include:
  • delay or lack of development of spoken language.
  • difficulty starting or maintaining a conversation.
  • using stereotyped (“repetitive, often seemingly driven, and nonfunctional,” p. 131) or idiosyncratic (odd or peculiar) language.
  • lacking variety and spontaneity in make-believe play or social imitative play.
Behavior
Impairments can include:
  • being preoccupied with an interest—intensity or focus is abnormal.
  • being inflexible and sticking to specific routines or rituals that may not be “purposeful.”
  • using stereotyped or repetitive motor movements such as hand or finger-flapping or twisting or whole body movements.
  • preoccupation with parts of objects.
Whom Does Autism Affect?
Autism affects individuals of all races and ethnicities. It affects boys more often than girls. Autism seems to run in families, indicating a possible genetic link to the disorder. This disorder occurs in about 1 out of every 110 children in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009, ¶ 1).
When Does Autism Occur?
Symptoms of autism are often noticeable before age three. There is no known cure for autism. It continues throughout an individual’s life.
Where Does Autism Occur?
Autism occurs all over the world. It occurs in any socioeconomic background.
Why Does Autism Occur?
There is no known cause of autism. Many specialists believe autism is a brain disorder.
How Can I Approach Treatment For Autism?
It is best to begin treatment of symptoms of autism early in an individual’s life. Different specialists, such as a physician, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or psychologist, can be part of the evaluation process for a diagnosis of autism. These individuals, along with parents / caregivers, can work together to help develop and implement intervention plans. Goals and objectives for interventions are to improve social interaction, communication, and/or behavior for better functioning in daily activities at school, home, and in the community.
Resources
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism spectrum disorders - What should you know? Retrieved January 8, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html
 
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