Autism is a complex disorder of brain development, characterized by impaired social interaction, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restrictive or repetitive behaviors. It has been recognized that autism shares many characteristics of differing degrees with other neurodevelopmental disorders such as Asperger Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrated Disorder, and others, and together these and other related disorders have recently been reclassified and given one name: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals who have some traits of autism or other ASD disorders but do not fulfill the full criteria are sometimes referred to as being "on the spectrum." That being said, the signs and symptoms of classical autism are different in many ways from the other ASD disorders, and the likely causes and treatments differ as well.
Autism affects the brain of the developing child by altering the manner by which nerve cells connect and organize. It first appears in infancy or early childhood, and with few exceptions it does not resolve on its own. The earliest signs begin after age six months and become more pronounced by 2-3 years of age. If left untreated, autism continues to progress through adulthood, and very few autistic adults reach a high level of independence.
Although there are some characteristics which are highly typical of autism, each autistic child has unique behaviors and deficits. A high percentage of autistic individuals have average to above average intellectual capabilities, and many have exceptional skills in math, music, art, computer skills and academics. On the other hand, many autistic individuals are severely disabled with disruptive and dangerous behavior patterns as well as marked deficits in intellectual capabilities.
Over the past number of years there has been much progress made in understanding the basis for autism, and in how to successfully overcome many of the deficits of this disorder. Intensive educational programs and behavior therapies such as Applied Behavior Analysis ( ABA) have been developed which improve functioning and communication and minimizes maladaptive behaviors and symptoms in many children with autism when initiated at an early age. Reach for the Stars is at the forefront in utilizing these and other state-of-the-art techniques, which can be expected to permanently alter the course and prognosis of autism for the better.