Autistic disorder also known as pervasive developmental disorder is a syndrome - not a disease. What exactly is a syndrome? A syndrome defined by Webster's Dictionary is a number of symptoms occurring together and characterizing a specific disease or abnormality. These symptoms are frequently observed during infancy to the first few years of life and tend to vary. Some symptoms may develop while others may not.

Autism Characteristics:
  • Severe impaired inherent intellectual capacities, difficulty in forming social and intimate ties, frequently demonstrate a lack of responsiveness to other people, as well as a lack of eye contact. Those with autism can eventually develop some awareness of, and interest in others, particularly with consistent environmental and sensory development training.
  • Indifference or aversion to affection, physical contact, and grooming. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an autistic person to become so resistant to physical contact that they will not allow even basic hygiene or grooming. Shaving, haircuts, and cutting of nails can be particularly difficult.
  • Impairment in communication and imaginative activity (both verbal and nonverbal), inability to name objects, inability to use abstract terms, abnormal speech melody, and disturbance in comprehension. Additionally, facial expression and gestures may be absent, and if present are minimal and generally inappropriate. It can be very difficult to those who do not know the person well to read and interpret their expressions. It can be equally difficult to understand what they want or are trying to communicate.
  • Preservation of movement and thought is an effort to maintain. A markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests is inherent, and may include activities such as handclapping, peculiar hand movement, rocking, swaying, spinning, interest in water play, and repetition of words or phrases regardless of meaning.
  • Strong resistance to minor changes in environment is common. Autistic persons tend to have an obsessive urge to maintain an environment of repetition and sameness. They do very well with a consistent schedule of daily events. Even minor changes like the placement of a chair in the room can be enough to create an episode. Loud noises, crowds, and bright flashing lights are contributors to outbursts. Taking items away, talking loud or angrily, (or appearing very frustrated) will only excite them more. Inappropriate responsiveness to external and often unplanned events can result in extreme behavioral outbursts. Outbursts can be dangerous for the autistic person as well as those around them. It is best if they are with someone familiar to them who can help redirect them, preferably, before they become uncontrollable. When they become upset, it's a good idea to stand away and allow then to calm down on their own.

There are various associated conditions which consist of abnormalities in the development of cognitive skills. Most autistic cases associated with a Intellectually Disabilities diagnosis are primarily in the moderate or severe ranges. The most common abnormalities are evident in posture, and motor behavior in eating, drinking, sleeping, moods, giggling, and weeping. These abnormalities can also include the absence of emotional reactions, and lack of fear in dangerous situations.

Autistic individuals tend to be internal in nature, especially in how they respond to the world around them. They see the world in basic ways, and filter day-to-day sensations differently than others do. Unusual responses to sensory input, ignoring sensations, oversensitive to sensations, fascination to sensations like light and odor are not uncommon.

Self-injurious behavior such as head banging, finger, hand, and wrist biting are common when upset. Self-injurious behavior usually starts with self-stimulation type of behaviors that tend to develop later. For example, a person will touch their hand to their forehead or side of their head to feel the vibration. The vibration is the self-stimulation. If they do it repeatedly or harder, it may cause a sense of dizziness that feels good to them and under their control. The self-stimulating hitting of the head can lead to repetition of the act. As time goes on, without intervention repetitive behavior continues to develop into more aggressive behavior like very hard hitting of the head (with or without items) and head banging.

Probable development of seizures occurs in approximately 50 percent of the population and is three to four times more common in males. In most cases, seizures are controllable with anti-convulsive medications. It may be helpful to note behaviors, which occur before, during, and after seizures. Autistic individuals also have limited automatic safety skills. They may fall during seizure activity without as much as putting their hands out to break the fall. Often, in these cases helmets and body padding is used (if they will wear it) since injuries from these falls are common.

Other conditions known to coincide with Autism include learning disabilities. Those who exhibit a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding, or in basic spoken or written language may also have trouble learning. These learning disabilities frequently manifest in listening, thinking, talking, reading, writing, and arithmetic. They include conditions referred to as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Frequently occurring characteristics include deficiencies in academic achievement, information processing, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity, uneven patterns of learning, and difficulties in social relationships.

Center for the Study of Autism, Website:
National Alliance for Autism Research, Website:
Webster's New World College Dictionary, 3rd edition.