What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.

ASDs are “spectrum disorders." That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.

*Asperger syndrome, or Asperger's, is a term that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis. In current diagnostic criteria, the syndrome is included under the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are related disorders that have some of the same characteristics. ASDs have to do with the way the brain develops and affect the way people relate to others and how they use language. Autism is the most well known of the autism spectrum disorders, but Asperger's syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder, as well as other less common conditions, are also part of the spectrum.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) share the core symptoms of significant deficits in the quality of their social relatedness and their ability to communicate in social contexts. The third core element is a pattern of restricted and intense interests, reliance on routine and, often, repetitive or stereotyped patterns of movement.

The autism spectrum should be thought of as three-dimensional; children vary not only in the severity of their symptoms but also in which domains of behavior are most affected. It is clear that no two children with ASD are the same. However, it also is clear that their brains are wired differently with a resultant sharing of common symptoms. These differences are determined by the interaction of genetic variations with environmental influences (most still unidentified). Suffice it to say that no evidence points to vaccines as the culprit.

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Autism is the most common of a group of related disorders called autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). The next most common autistic spectrum disorder is Asperger's syndrome. While an ASD is sometimes first diagnosed in an adult, these disorders are most often identified and diagnosed in childhood.

The reason ASDs are called "spectrum" disorders is that they affect people differently and to different degrees. Symptoms and behaviors can vary, ranging from mild to severe. For this reason, treatment plans are highly individualized.

Simply broken down, ASD includes a range of neurological and developmental impairments that affect how individuals interact socially, communicate verbally and nonverbally, think, learn, move and play. An estimated 1 in 150 children falls somewhere within the autism spectrum. In most cases, the cause is unknown, though sometimes there is a strong genetic component. Continued biological and environmental research is needed to understand what triggers most autism.

From The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

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The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do! "Moms and dads need expert guidelines, especially when it comes to their kids' health. This book reveals the inside strategies I use myself-I'm a parent, too!-to avoid critical, common blunders where it matters most: in the ER, pediatrics ward, all-night pharmacy, exam room, or any other medical hot spot for kids. These tips could save your child's life one day. Even tomorrow." -Dr. Jen Making health care decisions for your child can be overwhelming in this age of instant information. It's easy to feel like you know next to nothing or way too much. Either way, you may resort to guessing instead of making smart choices. That's why the nation's leading health care oversight group, The Joint Commission, joined forces with Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg on this book: to help you make the right decisions, whether you're dealing with a checkup or a full-blown crisis. The Smart Parent's Guide will give you the information you need to manage the pediatric health care system. Dr. Jen understands the questions parents face—as a mom, she's faced them herself. She walks you through everything: from how to choose the best ER for kids (not adults) to when to give a kid medicine (or not to) to how pediatricians care for their own children (prepare to be surprised). Her goal is your goal: to protect the health of your children. There simply is nothing more important.

In 2013, autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, pervasive developmental disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) were rolled into one umbrella category: autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is characterized by developmental delays, communication problems, abnormal social skills, learning disabilities and behavioral problems—all ranging from mild to severe. While some symptoms are apparent during infancy, most children exhibit ASD symptoms between the ages of one and two.

It is now known that ASD is not caused by just one thing. Rather, this broad condition can have many different causes. Similarly, there is not just one brain problem found in ASD, but actually eight to 10 factors that can influence abnormal brain function.

Dr. Alexander Kolevzon, MD
Adolescent Medicine Specialist

The Autism Spectrum encompasses a heterogeneous group of disorders that have traditionally been characterized as having three symptom domains, including communication deficits, social interaction deficits, and repetitive patterns of behavior. However, recent evidence suggests that impairments in communication and social interaction are inseparable and may be more accurately conceptualized as one domain. As such, the proposed revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) combine delays in social and communicative functioning into a single category alongside a separate category for repetitive and restricted behaviors.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that some people are born with, affecting the way a person behaves, learns, communicates and interacts with others. ASD covers a wide range of symptoms and disability levels. This means it affects different people in different ways, and people with ASD are all unique and different from each other.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.