By Phil Sievers
Educational Specialist for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Minnesota Department of Education
The term Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is used to refer to a range of related conditions also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). Autistic disorder and these related conditions are lifelong developmental disabilities that usually begin during the first three years of a child's life. These disorders affect the way a child communicates, interacts with other people and perceives and reacts to the world.
Not all children with autism behave in the same way. Patterns of behavior characteristic of ASD include problems with social interactions, difficulty communicating with others and a narrow range of interests or repetitive behaviors. This is what is meant by the "spectrum of autism." Each child might display a different combination of characteristics, ranging from mild to severe.
Children with autism spectrum disorders may be non-verbal and do not interact with other children or adults, as in the case of many with "classic" autism, or what is called Autistic Disorder. On the other end of the spectrum are children with a high-functioning form of autism characterized by particular social skills and play, such as Asperger Syndrome.
Types of autism spectrum disorders, or PDDs, include: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).
Autism is not a form of mental illness. It is not something that is caused by bad parenting or by any other psychological influences in the child's life. Researchers have not found a specific cause for autism. Evidence indicates that there are genetic factors involved and that there are biological and/or neurological differences in the brains of children with autism.
The earliest signs of autism most often appear before a child is three years old. Some health care providers have been able to identify the warning signs in children under the age of one. Most often parents first notice the loss of skills or delays in development when their child is 15 to 18 months old.
During the first three years of life, children typically make tremendous leaps in their growing and learning. As a parent, you will be amazed at how much your baby grows from month-to-month and even day-to-day. As someone who knows your child the best, it is important that you talk with your child's health care provider if you have any concerns about how your child interacts with others or if your child is not growing and learning like other children you know.
Recognizing the red flags early in your child's development is important so that your child may get the help she needs. Research shows that children who receive early help through special services and educational approaches have better outcomes. Even though it may be difficult or worrisome for parents to think something may be wrong, children will benefit from the early identification of developmental problems.
The following are red flags or absolute indicators that may signal a young child is at risk for not developing as expected and is in need of an immediate evaluation:
These concerns should be taken seriously, prompting further action by you. Make an appointment to have your child receive screening and immediate evaluation by your child's health care provider or through your local Early Intervention Program.