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Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs), cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. These disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, through pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), to a much milder form, Asperger syndrome. They also include two rare disorders, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

The autism spectrum disorders are more common in the pediatric population than are some better known disorders such as diabetes, spinal bifida, or Down syndrome. A recent study estimated that 3.4 of every 1,000 children 3-10 years old had autism.

All children with ASD demonstrate deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. In addition, they will often have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look. Each of these symptoms runs the gamut from mild to severe and presents in each individual child differently.

Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. In some cases, the baby seemed "different" from birth, unresponsive to people or focusing intently on one item for long periods of time. The first signs of an autism spectrum disorder can also appear in children who had been developing normally. When an affectionate, babbling toddler suddenly becomes silent, withdrawn, self-abusive, or indifferent to social overtures, something may be wrong.

Although there are many concerns about labeling a young child with an ASD, the earlier the diagnosis of ASD is made, the earlier needed interventions can begin. While there is no single best treatment package for all children with ASD, one point that most professionals agree on is that early intervention is important; another is that most individuals with ASD respond well to highly structured, specialized programs.

Among the many methods available for treatment and education of people with autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted as an effective treatment. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General states, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.” The basic research done by Ivar Lovaas and his colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, called for an intensive, one-on-one child-teacher interaction for 40 hours a week, and laid a foundation for other educators and researchers in the search for further effective early interventions to help those with ASD attain their potential.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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