Autism is a mental disorder that affects the patient's thoughts, perception of the things around him, and his attention. It is complex disorder with a myriad of symptoms that range from broad to severe, making it somewhat difficult to diagnose. Thankfully, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has compiled a list of symptoms associated with autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders volume IV (DSM-IV).
The rule of thumb when referring to the list of twelve symptoms in the DSM-IV is that if the individual exhibits six or more of them, he may be diagnosed with autism. This may sound simple enough, but actually referring to the checklist effectively is another matter. Here's a brief explanation of each of the symptoms to help you understand the checklist better:
Qualitative Impairment in Social Interaction
There are four subcategories underneath this item, two of which should be exhibited by the individual in question.
- Trouble in using several nonverbal behaviors like maintaining eye contact, making appropriate facial expressions, proper body posture, and facilitating conversations with bodily gestures.
- Inability to make age-appropriate friends. His diminished interaction skills make him a difficult friend to his peers.
- Lack in the ability to bring, show, or point out things that interests him to other people. He doesn't initiate sharing the things he likes.
- Inability to create emotional bonds when interacting with others. The individual prefers to play by himself, or uses other people in games as mere objects to facilitate play.
Qualitative Impairments in Communication
Another four subcategories fall under this item:
- Abnormally slow rate of learning to speak, or inability to speak at all.
- Incapacity to start or keep a conversation going if the patient does learn to speak.
- Use of certain words or phrases repetitively instead of normal conversational language. He may be repeatedly saying things like "dog", even though what he's trying to tell you is that he wants a drink of water.
- Inability to play make-believe at an age-appropriate level.
Restricted Repetitive and Stereotyped Patterns of Behavior, Interests and Activities
The last four criteria in the behavioral checklist fall under this category:
- An excessive preoccupation with a restricted pattern of interest, such as shaking hands, or butting one's head against items or people.
- Inflexibility with specific routines. If the routine in question is not one of the individual's interests, he will have trouble sticking to it.
- Repetitive motor movements. The patient may be constantly waving his arms in small circles, or flipping his hands back and forth, or even more complex motions.
- Intense preoccupation with parts of things. There is a noticeable fixation with certain areas of objects, such as the wheels on his toy train.
If you suspect that a child you know may be autistic, consult a trained psychiatrist for formal testing and diagnosis. If the autism is detected at an early age, measures can be taken to make the child's life a lot easier.