Autism Spectrum Disorder Explained

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders.  ASD includes a wide range, “a spectrum”, of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. If you are interested in discovering more about Autism or Aspergers, we delve into more on a few other pages on this website.

Autism a brief history?

A few examples of autistic symptoms and treatments were described long before autism was named. The new latin word autismus (English translation autism) was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 as he was defining symptoms of schizophrenia. He derived it from the Greek wordautós (αὐτός, meaning “self”), and used it to mean morbid self-admiration, referring to “autistic withdrawal of the patient to his fantasies, against which any influence from outside becomes an intolerable disturbance”.

The word autism first took its modern sense in 1938 when Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital adopted Bleuler’s terminology autistic psychopaths in a lecture in German about child psychology. Asperger was investigating an ASD now known as Asperger syndrome, though for various reasons it was not widely recognised as a separate diagnosis until 1981. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital first used autism in its modern sense in English when he introduced the label early infantile autism in a 1943 report of 11 children with striking behavioural similarities. Almost all the characteristics described in Kanner’s first paper on the subject, notably “autistic aloneness” and “insistence on sameness”, are still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders. It is not known whether Kanner derived the term independently of Asperger.

As time passed and more was learnt about the different Autism disorders there was a strong view that the many terms associated with Autism should fall under the one name. The fifth and most recent revision of the American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published in 2013. Noted Autism Spectrum to encompass the previous diagnoses of autism, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegrative disorder.

Some popular questions about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Why is autism on a spectrum?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterised, in varying degrees, by difficulties in two main types of behaviour:  “social communication and interaction” and , “restricted/repetitive behaviours”.

Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. Treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. Families with concerns should talk to their paediatrician about what they have observed and the possibility of Autism Spectrum Disorder screening.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) around 1 in 68 children has been identified with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Is Autism a form of mental illness?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. On its own, autism is not a learning disability or a mental health problem. But some people with autism have an accompanying learning disability, learning difficulty or mental health problem.  This is known as co-morbidities of disorders.

What is a child with ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of conditions that cause people to have difficulties with social communication, to have narrow interests and repetitive behaviours, or to be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to light, noise, clothing, or temperature. They may also experience sleep problems, digestion problems, and irritability.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is unique in that it is common for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder to have many strengths and abilities in addition to challenges.

Strengths and abilities may include:

  • Having above-average intelligence – the CDC reports 46% of ASD children have above average intelligence.
  • Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time.
  • Being strong visual and auditory learners.
  • Excelling in math, science, music, or art.

What is the difference between Asperger’s syndrome and ASD?

In the past, Asperger’s syndrome and Autistic Disorder were separate disorders. They were listed as subcategories within the diagnosis of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders.” However, this separation has changed. The latest edition of the manual from the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), does not highlight subcategories of a larger disorder. The manual includes the range of characteristics and severity within one category. People whose symptoms were previously diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome or Autistic Disorder are now included as part of the category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

We will help to ‘demystify’ the system and reduce some of the stress and anxiety.