What is Autism?

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Asking ourselves “What is Autism” is the first step to understanding how to treat it and what causes it.

I started writing all of these articles about Autism but quickly realized through my research that I don’t know as much about autism as I thought I did. I know it’s a spectrum disorder meaning there are very different levels of severity and no two people with autism share the same characteristics. I also know there there’s Asperger Syndrome, Autism, PDD-NOS, and High Functioning Autism but I don’t know enough about each one. Chances are, you might not know much about autism either so I’d like to take the time to figure each one out and explain them so we can all understand, to the best of our ability, the ins and outs of autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the blanket term for the three subsets that are recognized on the spectrum; Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Overall, the defining characteristics of someone on the spectrum are impaired social development, problems communicating, and repetitive actions. While these are the common and more definable traits of a person with autism, there are some that are almost just as common such as an inability to make direct eye contact or odd eating habits.


Autism is one of the three diagnoses of ASD. It is a neurological disorder that commonly presents itself with communication problems in the early developmental years and problems with social skills. Another common characteristic of autism is repetitive actions such as rocking, only eating certain foods, ritualistic daily routines, compulsively arranging toys in a row, etc.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome, sometimes referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, is very similar to Autism and is the second of the three diagnoses under ASD. While Asperger’s commonly presents itself with repetitive actions and social inadequacies, similarly to autism, there is typically little to no issue with developing speech among those diagnosed with Asperger’s like there is with people diagnosed with Autism. Some other characteristics of Asperger’s which are not used to diagnose but seem to be common are trouble sleeping, problems dealing with emotions, and sometimes memory issues. There are debates whether High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s are one in the same. In many cases of both Asperger’s and HFA, the diagnosed person has a tendency to be extremely brilliant in a context area such as math, science, music, and art such as Steven, the man who drew Italy by memory.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Diagnosis of PDD-NOS, or sometimes referred to as the atypical autism, usually doesn’t occur until later in the child’s life. Although signs can be prevalent at birth, generally it takes three to five years for the final diagnosis. A child with PDD-NOS has a different sort of communication barrier than a child with autism. Typically a person with PDD-NOS is not able to read facial expressions and connect with others’ emotions. This can make communicating with others fairly difficult not due to an inability to speak but to understand the situation or conversation fully. This is also paired with literal thinking as a common trait of PDD-NOS making it nearly impossible for the diagnosed person to understand sarcasm and figures of speech.

This is just the beginning of much more information about autism including the history of each and more in-depth analysis of the three types of autism and what we can do to manage each one.

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