Developmental Disorders

Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Babies and very young children are social beings that need love and attention in order to thrive. Some babies, however, not only avoid attention, but actually seem to dislike it. Autism is a disorder that affects a child’s ability to develop socially. Children with autism do not develop language skills at the appropriate age, they don’t make eye contact, and cry or are very uncomfortable when they are cuddled or touched. As they grow older, they may use language in odd ways, refer to themselves as "he" or "she", and display odd gestures such as rocking, or hand waving. The child may also have delays in developing their motor skills. Activities that require coordination such as riding a bicycle or handwriting may be hard for the child.

The effects of autism span a wide range. Some children with autism may not speak at all and be severely retarded. Other children with autism are bright, can attend school and will be able to get a job and live independently when they become adults.

Autism affects about one in every 700 children. Scientists don’t know exactly what causes it, but believe that children who have autism can’t process certain brain chemicals. It is not caused by anything the parents did. We are learning more and more about autism each day. We are also learning more about how professionals and families can work together to help the child with autism.

Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a disorder that is similar to autism. It is commonly described as "high functioning autism." Children with the disorder will display many of the same symptoms as children with Autism, but have normal or even superior intelligence. In contrast to children with autism, they want to play with other children, but may be unable to read communication cues. Tone of voice, facial expressions and body language are communication cues. It is these small cues that children with AS are unable to understand. For example, they may not know that someone is angry by the tone of their voice, so their response will be entirely inappropriate. They do develop language at the normal ages, but don’t seem to use their language to communicate with others. Children with AS may speak in a monotone, or with a sing-song voice.

The majority of children with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome respond well to treatment, but treating these children takes time, effort and patience. It requires patience because these disorders are best treated by a combination of interventions, and it may take some time to find the best combination. Some children will need support for the rest of their lives, while other children will be able to live independently. The disorders are not cured by medication, but medication can help to control some of the behaviors such as aggression or irritability.

All children with AS or Autism have the right to an education. Your child may be eligible for special education services. Work with the child’s teachers to find the best educational program. Some children should be included in the regular classroom, while others will get more benefit from small, specialized classrooms.