Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder, three little words that can be extremely confusing. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013) Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is comprised of these primary characteristics:
- Impairment in social communication and interaction. Characteristics may include the following:
- Deficits in reciprocity
- Deficits in nonverbal communication
- Difficulty developing peer relationships
- Presence of restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior. Characteristics may include the following:
- Preoccupation with objects or topics of interest
- Repetitive movements or speech
- Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory stimulation
For a person to meet criteria, characteristics must be present during a child's early development. However, the characteristics may not become evident until the child is older and is placed in social situations that exceed his or her social abilities.
ASD is often confusing to many professionals, caregivers, and community members because of one thing: the characteristics of the disorder are expressed differently in every single individual. For example, some individuals with ASD may exhibit only mild characteristics of autism, while others display the characteristics in an extreme manner. It should always be remembered that individuals with ASD vary widely in their abilities, interests, and strengths. This is why autism is referred to as a 'spectrum' disorder.
Think of this section of the website as a way to dip your toes into the world of ASD. If you are new to the world of autism, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the all the terms, acronyms, and theories. Understand that the field of ASD is constantly evolving and changing. What we thought we knew yesterday changes in the light of today's research. No matter how our understanding of ASD changes through research though, there will remain one constant: our belief that individuals with ASD deserve our respect and support as they reach for the stars.
The following websites provide a broad overview of ASD and provide you with information about advances in the field.
The Centers for Disease Control has dedicated a section of their website to autism spectrum disorders. The CDC maintains an extensive collection of data, statistics, tracking information, and research articles. There is also a section for those just learning about ASD that covers the basics of first signs, screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
Autism Speaks maintains an extensive website containing everything from news, research, updates, to family support. They host a detailed video library explaining what the primary and secondary characteristics of ASD are and what they might look like in various children.
The Autism Society of America was founded in 1965 by a small group of parents working on a volunteer basis out of their homes. Over the last 45 years, the Society has developed into the leading source of information and referral on autism. Today, over 20,000 members are connected through a working network of over 200 chapters in nearly every state.
Because ASD is constantly evolving and changing, we must be aware of how such changes impact every aspect of ASD, including diagnosis. ASD is currently diagnosed using the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual, 5th edition (or DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
The Interactive Autism Network (IAN) began as a way to connect families and individuals with ASD and to allow them to participate in a unique online research effort. The data IAN has collected contributes to both research and the direction of future studies in an effort to improve the quality of life for those with ASD.
The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (OASIS) has joined with MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome to create a single online resource for families and professionals, as well as individuals with ASD.
Mayo Clinic: Asperger Syndrome This website provides basic information regarding the definition, symptoms, and diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Included in this informational site are coping strategies to help those who care for and support a person with Asperger Syndrome.
Guides and Factsheets
VCU-ACE has developed a Q and A Fact Sheet on ASD which poses and answers many important questions about the complexity of the disorder.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - Autism Fact Sheet This website presents a fact sheet that answers commonly asked questions about autism including what it is, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. This is a valuable resource for an introduction into autism.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet This website presents a fact sheet that answers commonly asked questions about Asperger Syndrome including what it is, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and life in adulthood. It is a valuable resource as an introduction into Asperger Syndrome.
Videos and Training
VCU-ACE has developed an online course, Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which provides participants with an understanding of the primary characteristics of ASD. Secondary characteristics, including sensory processing differences and motor deficits are also explored. The course discusses the impact ASD has on the person as well as the family unit. Foundations of ASD also provides an overview of learning styles, the history, cause, and early signs of ASD. The 4-week course is facilitated by VCU-ACE staff and is free to residents of VA.
VCU-ACE has developed numerous Seminars on the Characteristics of Autism and Asperger's Syndrome including specifics on Communication, Social, and Behavior challenges. A detailed list of the seminars can be found on the VCU-ACE website.
Autism Internet Modules (AIM) has created a large list of free, online, educational modules designed for educators, professionals, and families. All modules were written by experts from across the United States and include a wide variety of topics.
The Centers for Disease Control has developed a short video on ASD entitled, "What is Autism?"
Research and Articles
Myles, B., Lee, H., Smith, S., Tien, K., Chou, Y. & Swanson, T. (2007). A large-scale study of the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 42(4), 448-459.