What's Autism?

On Monday, April 2nd, people around the world celebrated Autism Awareness Day, and the entire month of April is Autism Awareness Month. As autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, with more than 3.5 million people diagnosed in the United States alone, we thought we’d shed some light on some of the facts, misconceptions, and varying degrees of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism is a word with Greek origins which essentially implies a meaning of an “isolated self.” The word was first used around 1911 when a Swiss psychiatrist named Eugen Bleuler characterized certain symptoms related to schizophrenia under the term.

It was during the 1940s that researchers began to use the term to describe what we now identify as Autism Spectrum Disorder, around the same time that Hans Asperger was observing the disorder in Germany. For many years, into the 1960s in fact, autism and schizophrenia were considered correlated, and only in the last fifty years have researchers begun to understand ASD as a separate and self-contained condition.

So What Is It?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad term that describes a wide variety of social and communicative behaviors and delays. It is a complex developmental disorder that presents with varying severity and symptoms in each individual affected by it, hence the term “spectrum” in its name.

Due to the greatly disparate symptoms and severities of ASD, several diagnoses which used to be considered separate disorders are now included under the overarching autism diagnosis. These other diagnoses most notably include Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).