About Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are disorders of brain development affecting a child's communication skills, social skills and in their play and behaviour (Autism Research Training Program, 2010 ). This disorder presents itself differently in each child with respect to severity and symptoms. ASD refers to three different but related conditions: autism, Asperger's disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified.
ASD's are characterized by three main difficulties: impairment in social interaction; impairment in verbal and nonverbal communication; and restricted repetitive and stereotyped behaviours. Difficulties in sensory processing, emotional regulation and motor skills may also be demonstrated (DSM-IV). ASD is typically identified through a team-based approach led by a developmental paediatrician, child psychiatrist, or psychologist experienced in the area of ASD. The diagnostic team, that includes other health professionals, takes into consideration a child's early development and current developmental level (Autism Research Training Program, 2010) . The characteristics of autism may change as a child grows older, however the difficulties in socialization, communication, and interests continue in adulthood (ICD-10).
Every year many children are diagnosed with ASD and the current estimation of children diagnosed with ASD is 1 child in 110 to 150 (Autism Research Training Program, 2010). While we are usually able to say if a child has ASD or not, a challenge exists in understanding how much the child is affected by ASD. People who work with children with ASD, such as doctors and therapists, have difficulties in determining how much ASD affects a child in his or her activities and how to group together children with similar abilities. For example, a child diagnosed in one part of the country may be considered to have 'mild' ASD while the same child would be considered 'moderately' autistic by other care providers; the words we use to describe ASD are not used consistently or with common meaning, so it is difficult to tell families what to expect when their child is diagnosed. Many treatments exist to help children with ASD; however, if we are not able to group together children who have similar abilities, it is difficult to understand which children benefit from these different treatments.
Currently, people who care for children with ASD use manuals based on symptoms to decide how severely a child is affected by ASD; however this type of system may not be accurate or used consistently. A different method can be used to determine how severely a child is affected by ASD, based on a child's ability to participate in daily activities or his 'functional abilities'. This type of system for children and youth with cerebral palsy has enabled health care providers to understand to what extent a child is affected by his condition and explain better to parents what this will mean for the future. Investigators at CanChild will be developing and evaluating an analogous system to evaluate children who are diagnosed with ASD called that Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication. This system will discriminate levels of social communication function in preschool children with ASD and group them together based on their levels of abilities.
KT Slide Deck 2010, CIHR Autism Research Training Program, www.traininautism.com