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Autism: A Developmental Disorder

Autism ImageAutism is a developmental disorder that includes a variety of symptoms from social difficulties to the inability to communicate and interact with others. It generally appears in early childhood, typically around the age of three. It is defined by the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as one of five Pervasive Developmental Disorders including Autistic Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism the United States. It occurs in all racial and ethic groups with boys being 3 to 4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed. Despite much controversy, there are no reliable studies linking autism to vaccinations.

Symptoms and severity of autism vary among individuals, yet all autism disorders impinge on the child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It affects information processing in the brain. Therefore, children with autism generally have difficulty with communication, social interactions and behavior. Some may offer no verbal communication, echo the speech of others, express demands verbally, display repetitive behaviors, i.e. spinning or rocking, or use peculiar language patterns. Autistic children have difficulty understanding and using non-verbal behaviors and frequently do not respond well to social cues. Lack of social skills include being nonresponsive to their name, lack of awareness of others feelings, reluctance to make eye contact and an inclination to retreat into their “own world.” Peer relationships tend not to develop and impede social growth. The lack of social integration inhibits the individual’s ability to predict outcomes of behaviors that can result in instances of unsafe behaviors and the inability to prepare for change.  

Characteristic behaviors of individuals diagnosed with autism include demonstration of repetitive movements, development of specific rituals/routines, restricted range of interests and fascination with parts of an object. Some individuals are unusually sensitive to light, sound and/or touch. Other behaviors may include hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors. 

While there is no cure for autism, intensive early treatment can improve the quality of life for the autistic child and his family. Research strongly supports the benefits of early intervention and treatment for successful outcomes. Numerous models offer interventions that provide the opportunity for individualized treatment based on the challenges present. Current treatment options include: Sensory Integration; Developmental, Individual Difference Relationship Model (DIR) floor-time model; Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS); Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support (SCERTS); Relationship Development Intervention (RDI); Social Stories; and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Brook Lane offers THRIVE, an Austism-friendly program that assists children in building relationships and developing positive coping and communication skills. If you think your child may have a developmental disorder that could benefit from therapy, call our Intake/Admissions Office today at 301-733-0330.  

Karen Nelson, MEd, is the principal at Brook Lane’s Laurel Hall School in Hagerstown.