Autism may become apparent in infancy, although the usual timeline for diagnosis is between 18 and 36 months. Some of the early signs include a lack of eye contact, lack of babbling, no single words by 16 months of age, and often a regression in skills becomes apparent sometime during the child’s second year of life. There is a higher incidence of diagnosis among boys. The primary aspects of autism include deficits in the areas of socialization, reciprocity, understanding and production of language, non-verbal imitation capabilities, and severe limitation of the child’s interests and activities. Many children with autism develop language, which may be marked by literal, repetitive, and non-communicative language, often what is termed ‘echolalia.’ There are two types of echolalia. A common echolalic response is characterized by a repetition of the words spoken by another person which are immediately repeated by the child with autism. A second type of echolalic response is commonly referred to as ‘scripting,’ or delayed echolalia . This type of language response is characterized by the child repeating words (i.e., over-learned scripts) that he or she heard previously, often from a favorite TV show or DVD. It is important that these behaviors be specifically addressed in the child’s intervention program. For example, a poorly implemented program will employ instructors who overuse verbal prompts with your child, leading to an increase rather than a decrease in echolalia. Of course that is the result, because your child is being taught how to be echolalic! Without specific prompt-fading strategies in place via a systematic plan to fade out those prompts, you can expect that your child will continue to be echolalic and may even become increasingly unable to respond to any questions at all.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
PDD-NOS is a sub-condition on the autism spectrum in which some, but not all, of the features of autism are present. PDD-NOS is often incorrectly referred to as PDD. However, PDD is the umbrella term for the Autism Spectrum of disorders and is not a specific diagnosis. PDD-NOS is a diagnosis in which social skills appear to be less impacted than for children diagnosed with classical autism. For this group of children, intellectual deficits are less common and they may be diagnosed later than children with classical autism.
Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome often have traits that include an intense and limited interest. These individuals may be compulsive and rigid, and appear to be socially awkward or timid. Some individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome may have no early indication of a developmental delay and may in fact be intelligent and continue developmentally in a relatively typical manner. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are often described as ‘loners’ or ‘nerds,’ although they are interested in generating friendships but, due to awkward approaches and insensitivities, their efforts are unsuccessful. The symptoms of Asperger’s can be changed over time but are not usually completely overcome. One of my students diagnosed with Asperger’s is so interesting. If you tell him the date you were born, including the year, within a few seconds he can tell you the day of the week you were born on. Amazing! And he’s always correct!!