Autism is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of disorders that cut across all lines of race, class, cultures and ethnicity. Also referred to clinically as “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” (PDD) and “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD), autism impacts millions of children, adults and their families worldwide. Autism spectrum disorders affect not only the person diagnosed with the disorder, but also significantly impacts the entire family in a variety of ways.

Because of the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviors, the types of disorders and the considerable individual variation between disorders, the term “spectrum” is crucial to understanding autism. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders may be non-verbal and asocial, as is often the case of many with “classic” autistic disorders. And on the other end of the spectrum are individuals with a high-functioning form of autism characterized by idiosyncratic social skills, such as Asperger Syndrome.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), these diagnostic categories are outlined under the heading of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs).” In the DSM-IV, these disorders are defined by deficits in three core areas: social skills, communication, and behaviors and/or interests. Types of autism spectrum disorders or PDDs, include:


Autistic Disorder, sometimes referred to as early infantile autism or childhood autism, is four times more common in boys than in girls. Children with Autistic Disorder have a moderate to severe range of communication, socialization and behavior problems. Many but not all children with autism also have mental retardation. According to the DSM-IV, Autistic Disorder is classified as having 6 or more symptoms from a list of 12 possible symptoms in three areas: social interaction, communication and behavior. There must be at least two symptoms indicating social interaction deficits and at least one from communication and behavior.


Researchers and mental health experts are still investigating the causes of Autism. Many believe that the pattern of behavior that characterizes Autism may have many causes. There is strong evidence that the causes of Autism lie in the brain. There also seems to be a hereditary component to Autism and research indicates that in some cases Autism may be associated with other mental health disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers are also looking into whether environmental factors that affect brain development might play a role. There is no cure for Autism and many people do not want there to be one. People with Autism bring this world many special talents and unique gifts that if “cured” could be taken away. Autism is a lifelong condition that requires numerous interventions to improve a person’s functioning in society.