PlusFour Solutions: Guidance through Assessment

Emotional and Behavioral Assessment

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

(Pervasive Developmental Disorders)

AutismPervasive Developmental Disorders affect an estimated one of every five hundred children and causes disruption in families and unfulfilled lives for many children. Often referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Typical ASD Behaviors

  • Significant developmental delays
  • Unresponsive to people or withdrawn
  • Deficits in social interaction
  • Deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Repetitive behaviors or interests
  • Unusual sensory responses
  • Focusing intently on one item for long periods of time
  • Abrupt loss or plateau of language or social skills before age three years
  • Self-abusive behaviors

Autistic Disorder is a more severe autistic spectrum disorder and is marked by significant, qualitative impairment in social interaction and communication with restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. In the past decade, the number of people diagnosed with autism in California alone has taken an alarming upturn; more than seven new cases of level-one autism are being diagnosed per day. Autism cruelly catches many parents off-guard because children who may develop normally for the first two years of life suddenly plateau in their development. An engaged child suddenly becomes silent, withdrawn and doesn’t seem to recognize his name or his parents’ faces. Recurring themes in those with autism are unusual attractions to highly organized systems and complex machines. Autistic minds welcome the virtual worlds of mathematics, symbols and code while seeming easily overwhelmed by the physical world and culture.

Debates regarding the cause of autism continue today. To be certain, almost all research today points to genetics as a large contributing factor in determining a child’s propensity for development of the disorder. Possible environmental causes remain controversial as catalysts for the disorder. Gone, however, is the original notion that a child becomes autistic purely because of emotionally detached parenting.

Asperger Syndrome is characterized by an impaired ability to utilize social cues such as body language, irony, or other “subtext” of communication. The criteria for diagnosis are similar to that for Autistic Disorder but do not include the communication problem areas. In his book Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Australian psychologist Tony Attwood describes children with Asperger’s as

Children who lack basic social and motor skills, seem unable to decode body language and sense the feelings of others, avoid eye contact, and frequently launch into monologues about narrowly defined-and often highly technical- interests. Even when very young, these children become obsessed with order, arranging their toys in a regimented fashion on the floor and flying into tantrums when their routines are disturbed. As teenagers, they’re prone to getting into trouble with teachers and other figures of authority, partly because the subtle cues that define societal hierarchies are invisible to them.

People with Asperger’s are more adept socially and although it is less disabling than classic autism, those who have Asperger’s suffer difficulties in the same areas of social interaction, motor skills, sensory processing and repetitive behavior tendencies.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS (PDD, NOS) represents presentations of ASD that do not meet the criteria for Autistic Disorder because of late age of onset, atypical or uncharacteristic symptoms, or both. The fine gray area between Asperger’s and classic autism often finds a diagnosis in PDD, NOS; a thorough assessment is necessary to provide an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Steve Newton has assessed several hundred ASD clients and families and works with a number of Bay Area specialists who treat ASD children.

Additional information about Autism Spectrum Disorders: