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Date Submitted: 08/24/2011 05:18 AM

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Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of related developmental disorders that begin in childhood and persist throughout adulthood.

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories:

* Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people's emotions and feelings.

* Impaired language and communication skills, such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.

* Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.

There is currently no cure for ASD, but there are a range of treatments that can improve the symptoms listed above.

Types of ASD

The term 'spectrum' is used because the symptoms of ASD can vary from child to child, and from mild to severe.

In very broad terms, there are three main types of ASD:

* Autistic disorder, sometimes known as 'classic autism'.

* Asperger syndrome.

* Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which is also known as 'atypical autism'.

Autistic disorder

Children with autistic disorder usually have significant problems with language, social interaction and behaviour. Many children with autistic disorder will also have learning difficulties and below-average intelligence.

Asperger syndrome

Children with Asperger syndrome have milder symptoms that affect social interaction and behaviour. Their language development is usually unaffected, although they often have problems in certain areas of language. For example, understanding humour or figures of speech, such as 'she’s got a chip on her shoulder' or 'it's raining cats and dogs'.

Children with Asperger syndrome usually have above-average intelligence. Some...