Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or autism, is a neurological disorder, which causes developmental disability. It is a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
The "spectrum" refers to a continuum of severity and developmental impairment. Children and adults with ASDs usually have specific communication, social and behavioural characteristics in common, but the conditions often cover a wide spectrum, with individual differences arrayed across:
· Number and kinds of symptoms
· Severity: mild to severe
· Age of onset
· Levels of functioning
· Challenges with social interactions
People with ASDs differ from others in the several areas of development including: motor skills, language, cognitive ability and social skills. Each person with an ASD is unique and will have different capacities for learning. Disabilities caused by ASDs might be very mild in one person and quite severe in another.
All people with ASD will have some degree of impairment in the following areas:
1. Social Skills: Some people with ASDs show no interest in other people. Others might be interested but not know how to talk, play with, or relate to others. Initiating and maintaining a conversation is usually difficult for people with ASDs.
2. Communication: Speech and language skills may begin to develop and then be lost, they may develop very slowly, or they may never develop. Without appropriate intensive early intervention, about 40% of children with ASDs do not talk at all. People with ASDs are often unable to interpret non-verbal communication such as social distance cues, or the use of gestures and facial cues that most of us take for granted.
3. Repetitive Behaviours and Restricted Interests: People with ASDs may have repeated ritualistic actions such as spinning, repeated rocking, staring, finger flapping, hitting self, etc. They may also have very restricted interests, talking about or focusing obsessively on only one thing, idea, or activity. Their habits may seem odd to others.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed through direct observation and parent interviews using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). There are no medical/blood tests for autism. Professionals registered with either the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists or the College of Physicians and Surgeons diagnose ASD.