Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder affecting social and verbal development in children. According to 2000 data from the American Psychiatric Association, between 0.002 percent and 2 percent of children are diagnosed as autistic, with boys being diagnosed four to five times more often than girls. Mild or borderline symptoms may be diagnosed as a mild form of autism or as Asperger’s syndrome. Regardless of whether symptoms are mild, as in Asperger's, moderate and falling between Asperger's and autism, or severe and fully meeting the criteria for autism, early intervention is essential for improving the child’s ability to interact and work normally with others in the future.
Children exhibiting symptoms that fall within the autism spectrum have trouble with social interaction, eye contact, peer relationships and displays of affection. Although autistic children may show a regression from normal development and “lose” words, children with borderline symptoms of autism may show a delay in language development instead. In addition, the borderline autistic child may seem to want to make eye contact and engage in nonverbal communication, but has difficulty doing so. Children with these symptoms often appear self-contained, socially awkward or extremely shy, but still seem interested in understanding social activities. In contrast, autistic children may not appear aware of or interested in others.
Often, autistic children have a marked delay, or complete absence of speech. More so, they do not make attempts to communicate by other means such as gesture or sound. Older children may have language, but may use it in odd, repetitive or stereotyped ways. They may not be able to verbally link ideas together to have a conversation, use language spontaneously, or use language in imaginative or creative play. Children with borderline symptoms may still exhibit a marked delay in language and social interaction, but may exhibit the ability to use language in moderately creative ways or hold a conversation about a topic of interest to them.
Rigid and Specific Behaviors
Strange, repetitive or odd behaviors involving inanimate objects of interest is another symptom of autistic behavior. For example, intense fascination with lines on the floor, ceiling fans, doorknobs, pipes or any other kind of mechanical or architectural type of feature may indicate symptoms of autism. Also, strange rituals that do not seem to have a purpose may indicate a problem. Examples of this type of behavior will not feel like normal “kid stuff,” as they are usually too precise to fall into the idiosyncratic rituals kids make up from time to time. Children with mild symptoms may be easier to redirect but are likely to still exhibit a strong preference for certain rituals or routines.