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What is Autism?

Updated on September 20, 2012

List of Useful Links

Below is a list of links that I felt were the most helpful to me when I started on this journey with my own son nearly five years ago.

Autism Research Institute

Autism Speaks

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Autism Society of America

National Autistic Society

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

How is Autism defined? Such a simple question, yet a very complex answer. My hope with this blog is to provide you with a breakout of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs); as well as simple and easily digestible definitions. I am a parent of a child with ASD, specifically PDD-NOS (which I define in greater detail below) and I remember the helpless feelings I had when my son was diagnosed. Hopefully, I am able to lessen some of the confusion associated with ASD's.

When my son was diagnosed, like many I turned to the internet for help. I am hoping this blog (as well as my other blogs about Autism and ASD's) help to euducate people about Autism and its many faces. I also wanted to provided the lateset information I could find about the changes in diagnoses, etc.

As many of you may have heard, the classification for Autism Spectrum Disorders will be changing with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) fifth release in 2013. With these changes should come simpler ways of understanding how Autism will be diagnosed. There is a LOT of backlash against the new rulings due to fear of losing services for Autism. I implore you to read for yourself. Autism Speaks writes continuous updates on the proceedings and if you are interested, click here for the latest update.

In the meantime, our community is growing every day as it is estimated that the prevalence for Autism is now 1 in 88 children being diagnosed. With that, so many of us are affected directly or indirectly every day. My hope is that these definitions help you understand what Autism means and how it can/does affect individuals.

Autism is defined by the Autism Society Of America (ASA) as: "a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today."

Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD):

Here are the FIVE disorders that fall under the Autism Spectrum:

  1. Autism or Autistic Disorder – This is one of five disorders that can be classified under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). According to Merriam Webster pervasive means: existing in or spreading through every part of something. The reason Autism is characterized as a PDD is because it is described as having severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development. Autism itself is a spectrum disorder (ASD). Symptoms range from mild to severe and like a spectrum, the level of developmental delay is unique to each person.
  2. Pervasive Developmental Disorder not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – PDD-NOS stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified. PDD-NOS is the diagnosis given to those who do not meet all of the criteria of Classic Autism but do display many of the same traits. PDD-NOS is typically characterized by extreme repetitive behavior and by a lack of communication/speech in the first 1-3 years of childhood.
  3. Asperger's Disorder – Typically those with Asperger’s do not experience the language delay of typical kids with Autism and can be highly intelligent. However, these individuals do suffer from a lack of social skills and can typically fixate on certain things.
  4. Rett's Disorder – Rett's is only found in girls and symptoms are similar to Autism. Communication skills are lost early on and onset is typically 1-4 years of age.
  5. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)CDD mirrors Autism in its outcome but is very different in its presentation. CDD occurs after a typical period of development, generally between the ages of 2 and 4 and then the child loses skills such as speech and communication. As it progresses the child tends to mirror Classic Autism.

There is a plethora of information available on the Internet for Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) to help you navigate your particular diagnoses. Many of us are just starting on this path and are not sure where to turn for help. Suggestions and comments that may help others understand Autism are most welcome!

Text Copyright © 2012 Lisa Davis


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    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you @chef-de-jour for your comments and for understanding the need for acceptance. You are correct about the outside agencies, etc, the are vital to integrating these kids and adults into mainstream society! I appreciate your feedback as I am always looking for ways to better educate myself as well! I hope you enjoy my blogs on Autism and feel free to share with others you know who may benefit. Hopefully we can help as many people as possible!!

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this. The more you spread the word the more people will understand. Autism is on the increase according to all statistics so it's best to work with all known agencies for the benefit of everyone connected.

      I've been working with autistic young people for many years and met with lots of parents and carers to try and work out the best approach for learning. A great experience - there's so much good work being done in the home and outside in colleges and other educational centres.

      Appreciate your input. Much strength to you.

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you Angela - yes it is very close to me and my heart ;). I appreciate your feedback, have a great day!!!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      How wonderful for you to educate us all about something close to your heart!

    • mom4autism profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you very much!

    • mwilliams66 profile image


      6 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      Great hub. Very interesting.

    • Petfriends profile image


      6 years ago from New England Area

      Fantastic! So many acronyms it's great to see them all clearly layed out.


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