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What is Autism

Autistic Disorder of Autism Disorder is one of three disorders on the Autism Spectrum and one of the five disorders that make up the Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). This article has information on possible signs of autism and treatment options for autism.

The category PDD, of which Autism is a member, was designated by the American Psychiatric Association based on certain similarities among the five disorders it includes. They are all characterized by developmental delays in socialization and communication, which may be ameliorated, but cannot be cured.

The Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) include Autistic Disorder or Autism Disorder; Asperger(‘s) Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Autistic Disorder usually begins before age 3, and affects social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, the breadth of repertoire of behaviors and interests, and imaginative play. It is sometimes accompanies by cognitive impairment, seizures, and/or behavioral problems. It may also be referred to as autism, infantile autism, and Kanner’s syndrome. Autism usually manifests by the time a child is 18 months old

Possible Signs of Autism

Though these behaviors can be exhibited by children without autism, and do not necessarily appear for any one child, they may be worth checking:


• Not responding to his or her name
• Inability to explain wants and needs
• Slow language skill development or regression in language skills
• Failure to follow directions
• Apparently selective hearing

 Social Interactions

• Failure to make eye contact
• Doesn’t smile in response to a smile
• Shows no interest in other children: prefers to play alone
• Doesn’t point or wave good-bye
• Seems to tune out others


• Doesn’t know how to play
• Noticeably uncooperative
• Repetitive actions
• Walks on his or her toes
• Wedded to a schedule

Diagnosis of any disorder on the autism spectrum can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional. One very good reason for this is that several different situations may be mistaken for autistic disorder. These include Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Deafness, Developmental Language Disorder, and several other disorders.


Children who have autistic disorder may often benefit from special education. Autism is listed as one of the 13 disability categories which qualify children age 3-21 for special services under IDEA.

Autistic Disorder is often treated with a variety of approaches and types of support.

  • Behavioral therapy can help children learn effective ways to interact with others.
  • Speech-language therapy can help with any communication problems, including building awareness of social skills and non-verbal communication.
  • Occupational therapy can provide assistance with adaptation of tasks to suit the child and identification of areas in which the child can excel.
  • Physical therapy can improve the child’s ease of movement.
  • Medication can be helpful in some cases.

The exact nature of the interventions, and the combination of providers involved, will depend on the individual child’s situation and needs.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Sources Used in This Article

Autism Overview: What We Know (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) - Links to PDF

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