What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first 3 years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development (Autism Society of America, 2007, About Autism Section, para. 1).

Autism interferes with the normal development of the brain in the areas of reasoning, social interaction, and communication skills. Autism is often referred to as a spectrum disorder, meaning that symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children can exhibit any combination of these behaviors with varying degrees of severity.

Two children with a diagnosis of autism can act very differently than one another. A diagnosis of Autism is based on the standards set forth in a diagnostic handbook, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” now in it’s fourth edition (with a text revision) published by the American Psychological Association (MSDE, 2004, p. 3).

Autism is one of five developmental disorders that falls under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development,” (Autism Society of America, 2007, About Autism Section, para. 2). 


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