Autism is a spectrum disorder. All people with Autism have difficulty reading facial expressions, understanding sarcasm, interpreting a person’s tone of voice – general difficulties putting themselves in another person’s place and trying to see how the world looks to him or her. At the extreme end of the spectrum, a person may not use speech at all and show no interest in interacting with other people.
There are actually three disorders that are usually grouped together as Autism Spectrum Disorders. These are; Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Asperger’s Syndrome. The first two tend to be more severe, Children with Asperger’s test within the normal range of intelligence and language but still have problems with social interaction and their interests and activities are very restricted.
Two other, very rare disorders that are sometimes classed with Autism are Rett’s Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
Asperger Syndrome – although people with Asperger’s have average or above average intelligence, and develop language skills at about the average rate, they still have difficulties in communication. These include problems with taking the other person’s point of view in a conversation. A person with Asperger’s is likely to continue talking at length about a topic without noticing the other person has no interest, looks bored or has tried to change the subject.
To get a glimpse of a person with Asperger’s at different ages, click on the video on this page
Two things you will notice that are unusual. First, in all of the pictures, from a tiny infant to age three years, Nicky is not looking at any of the other people. He is looking at the table, the floor, the bread, straight ahead of him. Second, his first word is not “Mama” or “Dada” but “bread”.
Nicky shows a common characteristic of people with Autism Spectrum Disordes in that he is more interested in objects than people.
Autism – unlike people with Asperger’s, such as the man shown in the video you just saw, the majority of people with autism have mild to severe mental retardation. This does not mean that no children with Autism are of normal or higher intelligence, but most are not.