Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – the terms are used interchangeably. But do they refer to the same thing?
They do. Historically, the term autism has been used to label various disorders such as childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger syndrome, and autistic disorder. In 2013 the disorders were grouped under the term autism spectrum disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s classification and diagnostic tool. ASD now includes autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome according to the DSM-5, which is used globally for psychiatric diagnosis.
The updated term reflects the recognition of autism as a group of disorders that vary in severity. If your child has been diagnosed with autism, it’s important to know that his (or her) case will be as unique as his fingerprint. Each child exhibits his or her own pattern of autism.
The disorder affects three different areas: social interaction, verbal & nonverbal communication, and behaviors & interests. ASD can appear as intellectual disability, attention problems, difficulties in motor coordination, and physical health issues like sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Some children display signs of autism from birth. In others, the onset of autism happens later, after what appears to be a normal pattern of development. In fact, autism is sometimes only detected after the child is speaking enough for caregivers to detect unusual or abnormal thoughts or preoccupations. Parents are typically the first to notice the signs of ASD, which tend to become apparent between the ages of 2 and 3.
Coming to terms with an ASD diagnosis can be enormously challenging for parents. But research indicates that when ASD is detected and addressed with proven behavioral therapies at an early age, it can result in improved outcomes.
Additionally, ASD does not necessarily translate into limited intellectual capabilities. On the contrary, it is common for those on the spectrum to demonstrate exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. Roughly 40% have average to above average intellectual abilities.
Because children who are diagnosed with ASD demonstrate a wide range of symptoms, parents experience ASD differently. However, the sense of fear, disappointment and isolation that parents often experience are common, regardless of where their child falls on the spectrum. Some of the most effective resources developed to assist children diagnosed with ASD have been created by parents. The communities they form in response to their experience have enhanced their understanding and encouraged a wider acceptance of individuals on the spectrum.