Services for Students with Autism
Characteristics Associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorders are disabilities with many variations in symptoms and/or behaviors. Furthermore, people with autism spectrum disorders vary widely in abilities, intelligence and behaviors across those indicators. In other words, characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorders may be observed in a range of mild to very severe forms. For example, some children do not speak; others have limited or even advanced language skills. Those with more advanced language skills tend to use a small range of topics, as well as have difficulty with abstract concepts and pragmatic (practical) language skills. Repetitive play skills, a limited range of interests and impaired social skills are generally evident as well. Unusual responses to sensory information such as loud noises, lights and certain textures or food or fabrics are also common. Because the three disability groups included in autism spectrum disorders are syndromes (i.e., a collection of symptoms) (see figure 1), different children experience distinct characteristics with varying degrees of impairments. Each child is at different developmental levels from other children. Each child will be ready to learn certain skills at different ages.
One of the most important changes in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The revised diagnosis represents a new, more accurate, and medically and scientifically useful way of diagnosing individuals with autism-related disorders.
Using DSM-IV, patients could be diagnosed with four separate disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, or the catch-all diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Researchers found that these separate diagnoses were not consistently applied across different clinics and treatment centers. Anyone diagnosed with one of the four pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) from DSM-IV should still meet the criteria for ASD in DSM-5 or another, more accurate DSM-5 diagnosis. While DSM does not outline recommended treatment and services for mental disorders, determining an accurate diagnosis is a first step for a clinician in defining a treatment plan for a patient.