Autistic Spectrum Disorders


autism (ô´tĬzəm), developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. It is characterized by the abnormal development of communication skills, social skills, and reasoning. Males are affected four times as often as females. Children may appear generally normal until around the age of 24 to 30 months, although studies have identified signs of autism in children under a year of age.

Symptoms, which vary widely in severity, include impairment in social interaction, fixation on inanimate objects, inability to communicate normally, and resistance to changes in daily routine. Characteristic traits include lack of eye contact, repetition of words or phrases, unmotivated tantrums, inability to express needs verbally, and insensitivity to pain. Behaviors may change over time. Autistic children often have other disorders of brain function; about two thirds are mentally retarded; over one quarter develop seizures.

The cause of autism remains unclear, but a psychological one has been ruled out. Neurological studies indicate a primary brain dysfunction, perhaps related to abnormalities that appear to occur in the way the autistic child's brain develops. A genetic component is suggested by a pattern of autism in some families, and studies have suggested that a number of genes may be involved. Exposure in the womb to elevated levels of steroid hormones has been found to be associated with autism in boys in one study, but study compared the average levels of two groups of boys (one with, the without, autism) and individual levels in the two groups overlapped. The condition also appears to be more common in children born to older mothers or older fathers. Treatment in which autistic children are intensively and repetitively taught skills and behaviors from a young age appears to help some children with the disorder.

See T. Grandin, Emergence: Labeled Autistic (with M. M. Scariano, 1986, repr. 1996), Thinking in Pictures (1995), and The Autistic Brain (with R. Panek, 2013); L. Wing, ed., Aspects of Autism (1988). See also publications of the Autism Society of America.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Autism Spectrum Disorders: Identification, Education, and Treatment
Dianne Zager.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005 (3rd edition)
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Eric Hollander.
Marcel Dekker, 2003
The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Bryna Siegel.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Developmental Language Disorders: From Phenotypes to Etiologies
Mabel L. Rice; Steven F. Warren.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Trajectory of Language Development in Autistic Spectrum Disorders"
Meeting the Needs of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in the Early Years
Jordan, Rita.
Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 29, No. 3, September 2004
The Development of Autism: Perspectives from Theory and Research
Jacob A. Burack; Tony Charman; Nurit Yirmiya; Philip R. Zelazo.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Autism: Neural Basis and Treatment Possibilities
Gregory Bock; Jamie Goode.
Wiley, 2003
Advanced Abnormal Child Psychology
Michel Hersen; Robert T. Ammerman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Pervasive Developmental Disorders: The Spectrum of Autism"
When Autism Strikes: Families Cope with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Robert A. Catalano.
Plenum Press, 1998
Asperger's Syndrome: Intervening in Schools, Clinics, and Communities
Linda J. Baker; Lawrence A. Welkowitz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Asperger Syndrome: The Emerging Challenge to Special Education
Safran, Stephen P.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 67, No. 2, Winter 2001
Sex Linkage of Intelligence: The X-Factor
Robert Lehrke; Seymour W. Itzkoff.
Praeger Publishers, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "X-linked Mental Deficiency"
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