Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder with an onset prior to the age of 3.  It is considered to be a spectrum disorder in that individuals with autism may exhibit a wide range of social, cognitive, and communicative deficits.  Certain characteristics will vary from individual to individual.  In addition, symptoms may change over time and look very different at different ages. Certain autistic characteristics will not be apparent until later while others will disappear over time.

Autism carries many definitions from several concentrations.  Through international collaboration, experts have agreed to use certain behavioral criteria for the diagnosis of Autism. These have been made explicit in published reference works. The most detailed definition can be found in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV). The diagnostic criteria for autism consist of the following:

  • Qualitative impairments in social interaction (e.g. lack of eye contact, lack of social or emotional reciprocity, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level)
  • Qualitative impairments in communication (e.g. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language, stereotyped and repetitive use of language, lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level)
  • Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (e.g. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest, apparently inflexible adherence to routines or rituals, stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms)

Please take a moment to learn more about applied behavior analysis in the treatment of  autism by reading the article by Gina Green, PhD, BCBA for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

The Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association for Behavior Analysis has released updated consumer guidelines for selecting behavior analysts to work with individuals with autism.  Please read this link to learn more information. (Need Adobe Reader?)

For an informative report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics detailing the educational strategies and associated therapies that are the primary treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders, please click here.