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Excerpted from chapter 1 of Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Transactional Developmental Perspective, edited by Amy M. Wetherby, Ph.D., & Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved.
Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorders
The terms autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) currently are used synonymously to refer to a wide spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders that have three core features: impairments in social interaction, impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Major advances have been made since the 1980s in understanding the social and communication difficulties of children with ASD or PDD. This progress has resulted in a greater emphasis on early sociocommunicative patterns in the diagnostic criteria for the generic category of PDDs, which includes the subcategory of autistic disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). More specifically, the following essential features for autistic disorder compose the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition:
Because language and communication difficulties are essential features of this syndrome, educators and practitioners need to have current understanding of these characteristics and issues pertaining both to assessment and to intervention programs for children with ASD.
Autism is now understood to be of neurogenic origin and can have a dramatic impact on the family members of individuals with ASD. New treatment strategies are frequently introduced and discussed in the media and the professional literature; however, there is great variability regarding the extent to which treatments address the core characteristics of ASDs. In fact, much disagreement remains as to the nature of the core characteristics as opposed to secondary or frequently observed associated characteristics. Furthermore, most published intervention studies fail to employ meaningful outcome measures that document changes in barriers to learning that are characteristic of ASDs or meaningful lifestyle changes for the individual or family.
This volume provides a theoretical and research foundation for understanding the nature of the communication and language problems experienced by children with ASD and for guiding decision making in educational programming and, in particular, communication assessment and intervention. The first part (Chapters 2 through 8) examines the developmental context of children and their families and explores the underpinnings of ASDs and how these relate to communication and language problems. The second part (Chapters 9 through 15) examines issues pertaining to education and treatment for children with ASD. Because the topic of autism is so broad across the life span, this volume focuses on the first decade of life, spanning infancy, childhood, and elementary school age.
A DEVELOPMENTAL TRANSACTIONAL PERSPECTIVE
The theoretical and research framework underlying this book draws heavily from the transactional model of child development. That is, child