Autism. For many, this word conjures up images of children either completely out of control or so withdrawn they can barely function. But these images are extreme examples of autism – a complex disorder than manifests in a variety of ways and at different ages. In its mildest form, autism can minimally limit one’s life; in the most severe cases, full-time care may be necessary.

An autism diagnosis typically results in understanding where one falls on the Autism Spectrum. Regardless of the diagnosis, those diagnosed tend to display similar behaviors such as:

Difficulty understanding how other people think and feel

–        A limited ability to express themselves verbally, physically or emotionally

–        An extreme sensitivity to light or sound

–        Repetitive behaviors such as rocking

–        Strong attachments to objects

–        Resistance to change

Despite the similarities, each child behaves in his own unique way, responding to the world around him with varying degrees of dispassionate interest, anger, excitability and engagement. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, although Rett’s Syndrome mainly appears in girls.

The study of autism has resulted in a number of specific diagnoses. Those noted below are the manifestations most frequently encountered by medical professionals. These definitions are meant to inform and explain how people diagnosed with autism can behave in such different ways.

Asperger’s Syndrome:  Considered by many as the “highest functioning” form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome differs from other forms of autism in that the language function is typically well formed and accessible. However, classic traits of autism are present in those diagnosed with Asperger’s such as a limited interest set, repetitive behaviors and difficulty understanding social and emotional cues. While Asperger’s can be discovered during childhood, it tends to be diagnosed later than other forms of autism. A person living with Asperger’s can typically live and work independently, but social relationships may continue to be a source of frustration.

Kanner’s Syndrome (Classic Autistic Disorder):  Children and adults with Kanner’s display the classic behaviors associated with an autistic diagnosis. These individuals are disengaged from the world around them with under developed communication and language skills. Routine is important to those living with Kanner’s as it allows them to maintain rigid control over their environment and experiences. Noise, bright lights and gatherings of unfamiliar people can be highly upsetting often causing extreme reactions including lashing out physically and verbally, withdrawing or heightened rocking or other repetitive movements used to self-soothe.

Rett’s Syndrome:  Almost exclusively appearing in girls, Rett’s Syndrome makes its presence known between the ages of six to eighteen months. In this rare Syndrome, the child begins to develop normally, naturally progressing through the stages of muscle control and communication development. She then begins to lose ground, regressing into repetitive hand movements and environmental disengagement. Mental development also regresses with the child losing any learned communication and social skills.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder:  Perhaps the most mysterious for parents, children with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder progress developmentally within normal ranges until ages three or four. Until the disorder manifests, the child acts in the same ways and develops at the same pace as his peers regarding communication and social skills. Then, almost as if a switch is flipped, the child begins to regress in all aspects of development. Additional issues such as loss of bowel and bladder control and seizures are classic symptoms of this disorder.

PDD-NOS: Basically, those diagnosed with PDD-NOS exhibit some, but not all of the symptoms associated with Classic Autism. Someone with a diagnosis of PDD-NOS may show difficulty socializing with others, heightened sensitivity to certain stimuli, difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, inability to maintain eye contact, and may appear unemotional. Some have suggested that PDD-NOS is a “milder” form of Autism, presumably because not all characteristics are present. However, this suggestion is short sighted, in that one PDD-NOS symptom may be minor for a person, whereas another characteristic may be much more debilitating.

As you can see, while sharing some commonalities, Autism Spectrum Disorders vary significantly in characteristics and severity. Perhaps you have heard the statement: “If you’ve ever met a person on the Autism Spectrum, you have met a person on the Autism Spectrum.” An individual who has a diagnosis, any diagnosis, is a unique being first. As such, LoveU2Pieces believes the treatment plans to address issues on the spectrum are best viewed as specific to the individual, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. A portion of the treatment plan to address the needs of a family living with Autism Spectrum Disorders should focus on self-care for the parents/primary caretakers, as well as emotional support for siblings.