Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are considered to be neurological disorders, which means
that they affect how the brain functions. ASDs affect each child differently, to different
degrees of severity. However, all children with ASDs share difficulties in 3 areas: social
interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. Two children with the same disorder
can act differently and can have different skills. A child’s ability to learn and think can vary
from being gifted to being severely challenged. Some children who are mildly affected may
show only slight delays in language and more difficulty with social skills. A child with an
ASD may have average to above average verbal, memory, or spatial skills, but may find it hard to be imaginative or to participate in activities with his or her friends. Other children may be more severely affected and may need more help with day-to-day activities.
The term Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a specific diagnosis. It is a general term that includes the following diagnoses: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (including the less common Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett’s Disorder). There are no specific medical tests for diagnosing ASDs. An accurate diagnosis should be based on observation of a child’s behaviors, communication, social skills, and developmental level. A diagnosis of an ASD, or any other developmental disability, is based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is the main diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals in the United States.