Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), also called pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), are a group of neurobiological disorders characterized by fundamental deficits in social interaction skills or communication skills, or by the presence of stereotyped (purposeless and repetitive) behaviors, interests, or activities.1
Children typically begin experiencing difficulties by or before age 3. Common features include difficulty with transitions or change, unusual sensory interests or sensitivities, an extremely narrow and intense focus of interest, and stereotyped behaviors (e.g., hand flapping, rocking, twirling). Cognitive deficits or uneven skill development are often present. The spectrum of symptoms can range from a limited desire or ability to interact with others to the more severe symptoms seen with autistic disorder.
While the symptoms of autistic disorder may be quite evident, children and adolescents with more subtle difficulties (e.g., those with social withdrawal problem; Asperger’s disorder; or a pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified [PDD, NOS]) often go undiagnosed and untreated. Missed opportunities for treatment can adversely affect long-term outcomes and quality of life for these children and adolescents and their families.