Autistic Disorder, Autism: What is Autistic Disorder? Definition, signs, symptoms of Autism.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, and although it is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults with autism can exhibit any combination of these behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act completely different from one another and have varying capabilities.
The central features of Autistic Disorder are the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interest. The manifestations of this disorder vary greatly depending on the developmental level and chronological age of the individual. Autistic Disorder is sometimes referred to as Early Infantile Autism, Childhood Autism, or Kanner's Autism.
About one-third of patients with autism have normal or nearly normal IQs. Many are able to display emotion and affection and respond to their environment. Terms used to describe patients with the disorder include autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, and high-functioning or low-functioning autism.
DSM IV Diagnostic Criteria for Autistic Disorder
A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):
1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
- marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
- failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
- a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
- lack of social or emotional reciprocity
2. Qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
- delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
- in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
- lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level.
3. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
- encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
- apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
- persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.
- American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
- Autism Society of America
Causes of Autism, Autistic Disorder
While the cause of Autism is unknown, researchers report patients with autism often have abnormalities in several areas of the brain. This may indicate that a disruption in fetal brain development contributes to the disorder. The cause of the brain abnormalities in Autistic Disorder may be the result of genetic or environmental factors, metabolic disorders like serotonin deficiency, viral infections such as German measles, or possibly complications during pregnancy or delivery.
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Last Updated: 29 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD