Every April, we commemorate Autism Awareness Month. Why is it important to recognize autism with its own month? Early identification of autism in children helps parents and caregivers develop customized learning plans, so it's vital that you understand this evolving diagnosis. The last decade has witnessed significant changes in how autism is diagnosed, with a number of types folded up under a single diagnosis in 2013.
Autism has always existed on a spectrum; the symptoms of two children with the same diagnosis are rarely the same. Still, it is good to learn how to identify and label the different types of autism. Here are three of the main terms you need to know.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the most common, and broadest, type of autism diagnosis. Forms of autism like Asperger's used to have their own designation; however, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association redefined autism in such as way that Asperger's is now included under the wide umbrella of ASD. Children diagnosed as ASD typically exhibit the classic symptoms of autism, including language delays and social interaction challenges.
Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified refers to individuals who meet some of the criteria for autism. Your child may, for instance, have mild problems with social interaction but nearly full communication function. Historically, children who had symptoms more severe than Asperger's but not as severe as ASD were placed into this category. Even though ASD has become more broad, PDD-NOS is still in its own category.
Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is often associated with autism. If your child shows problems with motor functions, SPD may be the source. This condition exists when the nervous system is unable to interpret sensory information and translate it to motor functions or behaviors. About 3/4 of children with autism also have symptoms of SPD. That being said, SPD can also exist independently of autism.
Autism is an evolving diagnosis, and the spectrum of disorders and issues is often misunderstood. Through enhanced awareness and the spread of information, early diagnosis and greater acceptance of people on the autism spectrum is possible.