autism/autism spectrum disorders

A group of complex disorders related to brain development. Common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include difficulties in communication, impaired social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, symptoms vary across the spectrum. Some experts classify autism as a developmental disorder rather than a mental illness.

Prior to 2013, subtypes of autism such as Asperger’s syndrome, autism disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder were classified as distinct disorders. The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders consolidates all autism disorders under the larger autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Opinions vary on how to refer to someone with autism. Some people with autism prefer being referred to as an autistic person; others object to using autistic as an adjective. The Autism Self Advocacy Network details this debate here.

Refer to someone as having autistic spectrum disorder only if the information is relevant to the story and if a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. Ask individuals how they prefer to be described. If in doubt, use people-first language, referring to someone as a person with autism spectrum disorder rather than an autistic person.

See Asperger’s syndrome.


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