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The autistic spectrum (sometimes referred to as the autism spectrum) is a developmental and behavioral syndrome that results from certain combinations of characteristically autistic traits. Although these traits may be normally distributed in the population, some individuals inherit or otherwise manifest more autistic traits. At the severe end of the spectrum is low-functioning autism which has profound impairments in many areas, to Asperger's syndrome, and high-functioning autism, to "normal" behaviour and perhaps hypersocialization on the high end of the spectrum.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are classified as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), as opposed to specific developmental disorders like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or dyspraxia.

Autistic spectrum and pervasive development disorders

In practice, autistic spectrum disorder and pervasive developmental disorder are synonymous, but making a distinction is valuable. PDD refers to those psychological and behavioral developmental disorders encompassing many areas of functioning: language and communication, self-help skills, motor coordination, executive function, and scholastic achievement. The nosological category of pervasive developmental disorders includes syndromes that may be etiologically unrelated to autism, with autistic-like behavior being only one part of the disorder: Rett's syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

Autistic traits

Behaviorally, certain characteristics identify the autism spectrum. The number of autistic traits present determines the severity of autism in the individual. These autistic traits may be beneficial for some disciplines like science, mathematics, engineering, and software. Some autistic individuals might show a marked proficiency in rote memorization which may help learn the foundation of these subjects; however, the exceptionally good aptitude (in these subjects) of high functioning autistic spectrum persons may be due to their ability to readily identify patterns and apply them consistently to new situations outside of established knowledge or teaching. These savant skills, although popularly considered to be a major part of autistic disorders, are evident only in about 5% of autistic individuals (Klin and Volkmar, 1997).

Social impairment

  • Lack of observed desire for friendship
  • Poor ability to make friends
  • Indifferent to the feelings of others
  • Social awkwardness
  • Indiscriminate social interaction
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Brief response to questions
  • Gullibility

Language impairment

  • Odd or monotonous prosody of speech
  • Overly formal and pedantic language
  • Echolalia
  • Pronoun reversal
  • Visuospatial thinking sometimes preferred
  • Use of rote chunks of language
  • Late or no development of language
  • Difficulty or inability to translate thoughts into words
  • Poor use and understanding of nonverbal communication (i.e., facial expressions and body language)
  • Taking things literally, e.g. when told "Pull your socks up", they will do this.
  • Being questioned, may or will have a delayed reaction

Imaginative impairment and repetitive adherence

  • Concrete and literal use of language
  • Poor understanding of abstract thought, metaphors and symbolism
  • Preference for routine
  • Absorption in detail; inability to understand meaning or the whole of a concept
  • Perseverative interest or focus

Sensory integration dysfunction

  • Hyper- or hyposensitivity of the various senses
  • Peculiar clothing and food preferences
  • Self-stimulating mannerisms
  • Fine or gross motor discoordination

ADHD and autism

Some research has indicated a possible genetic and behavioral connection between ADHD and autism. As a result, some clinicians have suggested that ADHD be included under the category of autism-spectrum disorders. [1]

Diagnoses of ADHD together with autism spectrum disorder are becoming increasingly common in children. In young children, the two conditions can appear similar. However, as children age, differences emerge between the two conditions. Children with typical autism become more withdrawn, while with a suitable environment hyperactivity reduces. In either event, problems with social skills can develop.

By contrast, children with ADHD rarely calm down with age but often develop social and communication skills to a normal level. Any issues with social skills experienced by children with ADHD may have other causes. Examples include low self-esteem or difficulty with quiet, constructive social interaction.

See also

External links


See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Frith, U. (1991). Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wing, L. (1996). The autistic spectrum. London: Constable.


  • Bailey, A., LeCouteur, A., Gottesman, I., Bolton, P., Simonoff, E., Yuzda, E. & Rutter, M. (1995). Autism as a strongly genetic disorder: Evidence from a British twin study. Psychological Medicine, 25, 63–77.
  • Baron-Cohen, S., Scahill, V.L. & Izaguirre, J. (1999). The prevalence of Gilles de la Tourette syndrome in children and adolescents with autism: A large-scale study. Psychological Medicine, 29, 1151–1159.
  • Bristol, M.M., Cohen, D.J., Costello, E.J., Denckla, M., Eckberg, T.J., Kallen, R., Kraemer, H.C., Lord, C., Maurer, R.,McIlvane, W.J., Minshew, N., Sigman, M. & Spence, M.A. (1996). State of the science in autism: Report to the National Institute of Health. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 26, 121–154.
  • Chakrabarti, S. & Fombonne, E. (2005). Pervasive developmental disorders in pre-school children: Confirmation of high prevalence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(6), 1133–1141.
  • Charman, T. (2002). The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders: Recent evidence and future challenges. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 11(6), 249–256.
  • Department for Education and Skills (2001). Special Educational Needs and Disability Rights Act. Nottingham:DfES Publications
  • Department for Education and Skills (2002). Good practice guidance: Autistic spectrum disorders. London: DfES.
  • Department for Education and Skills (2004). Every Child Matters: Change for Children. Nottingham: DfES Publications.
  • European Parliament (1996). Charter of Rights for Persons with Autism. Written Declarations of the European Parliament.Brussels: European Parliament.
  • Ghaziuddin, M., Tsai, L. & Ghaziuddin, N. (1992) Co-morbidity of autistic disorder in children and adolescents.European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1, 209–213.
  • Happe, F. (2000). Why assets are more interesting than deficits. The Psychologist, 12(11), 540–546.
  • Howlin, P. (1998). Children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome: A guide for practitioners and carers. Chichester: John Wiley.
  • Jordan, R., Jones, G. & Murray, D. (1998). Educational interventions for children with autism: A literature review of recent and current research. Report 77. Sudbury: DfEE
  • Lainhart, J.E. & Folstein, S.E. (1994). Affective disorders in people with autism: A review of published cases.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 587–601.
  • MacKay, T. & Dunlop, A. (2004). The development of a National Training Framework for Autistic Spectrum Disorders. London:The National Autistic Society.
  • Medical Research Council (2001). Review of autism research: Epidemiology and causes. London: MRC.
  • Myles, B.S. et al. (2000). Asperger’s syndrome and sensory issues: Practical solutions for making sense of the world.Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
  • National Initiative for Autism: Screening and Assessment (2003). National Autism Plan for Children (NAPC), (the NAISA Guidelines). London: the National Autistic Society.
  • Ozonoff, S. & Rogers, S. (2003). From Kanner to the millennium. In S. Ozonoff, S. Rogers & R. Hendren (Eds.),Autism Spectrum Disorders: A research review for practitioners. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  • Public Health Institute of Scotland (2001). Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Needs, Assessment Report.Glasgow: PHIS/NHS Scotland.
  • Rutter, M., Andersen-Wood, L., Beckett, C., Bredenkamp, D., Castle, J., Groothues, C., Kreppner, J., Keaveney, C., Lord, T.& O’Connor, G. (1999). Quasi-autistic patterns following severe early global privation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 537–549.
  • Williams, C. & Wright, B. (2004). How to live with autism and Asperger’s syndrome: Practical strategies for parents.London: Jessica Kingsley.
  • Wing, L. & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9, 11–29.
  • Yeargin-Allsopp, M., Rice, C., Karapurka, T., Doernberg, N., Boyle, C. & Murphy, C. (2003). Prevalence of autism in a US metropolitan area. Journal of the American Medical Association, 289, 49–89.

Additional material


MacKenzie, H (2008) Reaching and teaching the child with autism spectrum disorder:Using learning preferences and strengths. Jessica Kingsley


External links

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