Skip left navigation
Subscribe to Mental Health email updates.
Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically diagnosed in childhood. Autism is a kind of pervasive development disorder. All children with ASD have trouble with:
- Social interaction
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive behaviors or interests
ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors that can range from the very mild to the severe.
Possible Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders for Children
- Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
- Does not speak one word by 16 months
- Does not combine two words by 2 years
- Does not respond to name
- Loses language or social skills
Some Other Signs
- Poor eye contact
- Doesn't seem to know how to play with toys
- Excessively lines up toys or other objects
- Is attached to one particular toy or object
- Doesn't smile
- At times seems to be hearing impaired
The cause of autism is not known, but it's likely that genes play a role. These genes may disrupt normal brain development.
There is no cure for autism. But for many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Living options for adults with ASD include:
- Independent living. Some adults with ASD are able to live entirely on their own. Others can live semi-independently in their own home or apartment if they have assistance with solving major problems, such as personal finances or dealing with the government agencies that provide services to persons with disabilities. This assistance can be provided by family, a professional agency, or another type of provider.
- Living at home. Government funds are available for families that choose to have their adult child with ASD live at home. These programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid waivers, and others. Information about these programs is available from the Social Security Administration (SSA). An appointment with a local SSA office is a good first step to take in understanding the programs for which the young adult is eligible.
- Foster homes and skill-development homes. Some families open their homes to provide long-term care to unrelated adults with disabilities. If the home teaches self-care and housekeeping skills and arranges leisure activities, it is called a "skill-development" home.
- Supervised group living. Persons with disabilities frequently live in group homes or apartments staffed by professionals who help the individuals with basic needs. These often include meal preparation, housekeeping, and personal care needs. Higher functioning persons may be able to live in a home or apartment where staff only visit a few times a week. These persons generally prepare their own meals, go to work, and conduct other daily activities on their own.
- Institutions. Although the trend in recent decades has been to avoid placing persons with disabilities into long-term-care institutions, this alternative is still available for persons with ASD who need intensive, constant supervision. Unlike many of the institutions years ago, today's facilities view residents as individuals with human needs and offer opportunities for recreation and simple but meaningful work.
Return to top
Treatments for autism focus on:
- Improving speech and language skills
- Improving non-verbal communication skills, such as making eye contact when speaking with someone and making correct hand gestures
- Improving posture and balance
- Reducing repetitive behaviors and rigid routines
Medicines also may help reduce the self-injury, tantrums, and other effects of autism.
Return to top
More information on Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders
Explore other publications and websites
- Asperger Syndrome (Copyright © Nemours Foundation) - This publication offers basic information about the autism spectrum disorder of Asperger syndrome, including its signs and symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.
- Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet - This online publication describes Asperger syndrome and discusses available treatments, prognosis, and research being done. It also lists additional resources.
- Asperger's Syndrome (Copyright © Autism Society of America) - This page provides in-depth information about Asperger's disorder and links users to local chapters of the Autism Society of America.
- Autism (Copyright © National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities) - This fact sheet provides a definition and overview of autism and pervasive developmental disorders, including incidence, characteristics, educational implications, and where to get more information.
- Autism and Communication - This fact sheet describes autism, who it can affect, development of speech and language, communication problems, and research being conducted on autism. It also includes the treatment of speech and language problems and a list of additional resources.
- Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Copyright © Nemours Foundation) - This publication explains what pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) are, what causes them, and how they are diagnosed and treated. It also includes information on how to help your child if he or she is diagnosed with a PDD.
- Autism Fact Sheet - This publication describes autism and discusses treatments available, prognosis, and research being performed. It also lists additional resources.
- Autism Overview: What We Know - This fact sheet provides information about autism, including a description of the disorder, possible signs that a child may be autistic, and treatments available.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders - This website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links to resources about autism from the CDC for families, doctors, researchers, and more.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders) - This booklet describes the symptoms, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorders, also called pervasive developmental disorders. It also includes information on getting help and coping.
- Employees With Asperger Syndrome (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) - This fact sheet answers basic questions about Asperger syndrome (AS) and offers advice to employers about workplace accommodations that can be made for employees with AS.
- Life With Autism: Stress on Families (Copyright © Autism Society of America) - Having a child can be stressful, but having a child with an autism spectrum disorder can be especially taxing for parents. this web page addresses the concerns that parents of children with autism may have and offers advice on how to deal with stress.
- Post Secondary Education - Living with an autism spectrum disorder doesn't mean you can't go to college. This fact sheet helps people with autism spectrum disorders and their families prepare for the transition to college.
Connect with other organizations
Content last updated: March 29, 2010.
Return to top