Autism Spectrum Disorders

According to World Health Organization (WHO), Autism is a complex set of developmental disorders with appearing in the early years of life mostly in the first 3 years of life. The condition sometimes referred to as autistic disorder describes many interrelating psychological conditions which result in abnormalities in the social interaction and communication of a child. The child also shows less interest and behavior development is hampered.

It can be diagnosed in the early years or in later years of life. A child can grow normally but develop signs of the disorders later in life. It has damaging effects on the normal development of the brain especially during childhood which further affects the social and communication aspects of the child. According to Tidmarsh and Volkmar (2003), it has overall effects of retarding the social and physical development of the child since the growth is considered complete if the child develops both physically, socially, and emotionally.

The umbrella conditions falling under this term include Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s syndrome. Of the three disorders, Autism is the most common one. Autism or autistic disorder is more prevalent and it houses other disorders like Childhood autism or infantile autism. Asperger’s disorder has been described as a less expressive Autism or has been found in individuals with mild symptoms of autism. Both autism and Asperger’s disorders are very close. The difference comes in that unlike autism, Asperger’s disorder does not lead to noticeable delays in the development of language. This is why we have said that it shows mild symptoms of autism.

It only causes a delay in the development of the social life of the child. On the other hand, pervasive developmental disorders do not have specified signs and symptoms but it is diagnoses when an individual seems to have developmental disorders but does not have expressive signs and symptoms that meet those of autism and Asperger’s disorders. According to Volkmar et al., (1997), Pervasive disorders have been shown to encompass childhood disintegrative disorder or Rett syndrome which both share several signs with autism but whose causes are not related.

Recent studies that have been carried out have shown that the prevalence of autism is estimated at 1.3 per 1000 children. The review placed Asperger’s disorders at 0.3 per 1000 children while pervasive disorder was found to have a majority of prevalence.

Signs and symptoms

The spectrum conditions are expressed in the behaviors of an individual. The severity of the condition is determined by the type of condition that the child is suffering from, the severity of the condition, and the combination of the traits present in the condition. However common among the symptoms that have been identified with the disorder is impairment in school interaction which limits the social life of the individual.

There is also impairment of verbal and non-verbal communication skills which is evidenced by delayed speech development. The child shows slowed development in the way one performs activities in that in some instances there are a number of activities that tend to be repeated now and then. Together these symptoms delay the development of an individual child and cause delayed milestones.

On the other hand, Acker (1997) argues that Asperger’s syndrome leads to impaired social interactions and development limited repetitive patterns of a number of behaviors. This is mainly characterized by delayed milestones and clumsiness.

The child defies all laws which need to be orderly. This condition has also been referred to as a developmental disorder. Being a dash of autism, the disorder manifests itself through lack of social skills, poor coordination of activities and body movements, showing less interest, less developed language skills in terms of vocabulary and grammar, difficulty in understanding complex conversation, and individuals tend to have average to above-average intelligence. In addition to the above individual are resistant to change and they seem attached to something like chewing pencil, tongue, and others, disturbed movement, and requirement of special attention in class.

Pervasive development disorder is used by clinicians at an early age especially below the age of 5 to detect the prevalence of any disorder in a child. This is because the symptoms of this condition are unrelated to either autism or Asperger’s and young children are bound to show some of these symptoms because they have less social interaction and communication abilities. By the age of 5, the disorder can be categorized as autism or Asperger’s.

Diagnosis and Treatment

These disorders are diagnosed using the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Since this criterion is used by medical professionals, individuals can use simple signs like mental retardation, learning disabilities, and childhood schizophrenia as tools for diagnosis of the disorders.

However, there is no known cure for these conditions. Since it is a behavior disorder, there is no known medical cure although medical professionals have prescribed some drugs in conditions where the child is hyperactive. This has met resistance from social workers who believe that correction of this condition requires modification in the behavior of the child. Hence individual attention to the affected child is needed in school and at home.

Knowing that the conditions have no cure helps us to draw other ways in which we can help the affected children. A recent survey shows that the prevalence of the condition has increased and consequently the diagnosis criteria have been revised. With no known cause and no defined cure, then we should go the social worker’s way of correcting these behavior deficits as soon as they are noticed.


Ackaer, R. (1997). Retts’s Syndrome: a pervasive developmental disorder. In D. Cohen, and F. Volkmar (Eds.); Handbook of Autism and pervasive developmental disorders; (2nd Ed.); New York: Willey.

Tidmarsh, L. and Volkamar, F. R. (2003): Diagnosis and epidemiology of autism and spectrum disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48(8): 520-524.

Volkamar, F., Klin, A., Marans, W., and Cohen, D. (1997): Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Hand book of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

World Health Organization (2006): Pervasive Developmental Disorders. International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems, 10th ed. Web.