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Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), are a group of conditions characterized by problems with communication (verbal and nonverbal), social interaction, and stereotyped and repetitive behaviors. These conditions begin very early in life, probably even before birth, and reflect a problem of abnormal brain development. The actual causes of these conditions are still not fully understood.

The three main Autism Spectrum Disorders are Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, and Atypical Autism (PDD-NOS). Rett's Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder are related conditions.

The Autism Spectrum Disorders tend to run a life-long course, and are often a cause of significant disability and distress for both the individuals suffering from these conditions, and their families. This is because the core symptoms of these disorders include major problems of communicating and interacting with others, such that these individuals have significant difficulty integrating into peer groups. It is as if they are tuned-out or oblivious to the rich and complex world of social interactions and connectedness, where human feelings are shared and communicated as a way to build social bonds. Instead, people with these disorders seem to relate to others as objects, and seem more comfortable and interested in the world of inanimate and material things.

About 70% of individual with Autistic Disorder will also have varying levels of mental retardation, though people with Asperger's Disorder and many with Atypical Autism will have normal levels of intelligence and tend to be higher-functioning, with increased chances of being able to integrate socially.

The principle form of treatment for these conditions is intensive educational interventions that try to teach these individuals the social and communication skills that they are lacking, and to help them reduce maladaptive behaviors. These interventions have a higher chance of success the earlier in life that they are started, and for that reason early detection and diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders is key.

Autistic Disorder