Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Autistic Spectrum Disorders include problems with nonverbal communication, socialization, and empathy. Children with an autistic spectrum disorder have difficulty understanding what other people are saying, need help to play with other children, enjoy routines, and find unfamiliar situations difficult. Symptoms can range from very mild to profound social and cognitive delays. The disorder is not associated with dyslexia, but it can coexist with dyslexia. Many children with autistic spectrum disorder also have difficulties learning to read and write.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. A child with autism processes and responds to information in unique ways. Although some can function at a relatively high level, many children with autism have serious cognitive impairments or mental retardation, and some never gain the ability to speak.
A child with autism may seem closed off and shut down or locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking. He may avoid eye contact and resist physical contact, such as hugging, or may have frequent tantrums or remain fixated on a single item or activity such as spinning objects. It's possible that his sensitivity to pain could be higher or lower than typical.
Autism is about three to four times more common in boys. However, girls with the disorder tend to have more severe symptoms and greater cognitive impairment. Although autism is frequently accompanied by mental retardation, about one out of ten children with autism also are savants with exceptional talents in narrowly constrained areas such as drawing ability or playing the piano.
The severity of autism can be extremely variable, ranging from mild to severe. Children with mild to moderate symptoms are considered “high-functioning.” Two children may share the diagnosis of autism, but behave very differently and have very different skills and abilities.
Asperger's Syndrome is similar to autism, but milder in form. Children with Asperger's have normal or above-average intelligence. They do not have language delays, but often have unusual speech patterns; they may speak formalistically or without inflection, or speak in a rhythmic nature or with a high-pitched tone. They often have a very literal understanding of language, and have difficulty understanding irony or verbal humor.
Children with Asperger's usually want to fit in and have interaction with others, but they tend to be socially awkward and have difficulty understanding conventional social rules or the give and take of normal conversation. They are often obsessively interested in particular subjects and may become proficient at knowing obscure categories of information, such as memorizing baseball statistics or bus routes. They may enjoy collecting things such as rocks or bottle caps. Although diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome does not include reading problems, the condition is frequently accompanied by symptoms of dyslexia.
Semantic Pragmatic Disorder (SPD)
Semantic Pragmatic Disorder is a communication disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction, communication, and imagination. Autistic features are mild and concentrated in the areas of social use and understanding of language and communication. Children with SPD are unable to process all the given information from certain situations, often focusing on details without understanding the big picture. The condition is usually first identified because of marked delays and difficulty with speech and language development.
Children with hyperlexia demonstrate an early and intense fascination with letters, numbers, patterns and logos, and a self-taught, precocious ability to read, spell, write, or compute, usually before the age of five. At the same time, they have significant difficulty understanding and using oral language and with socializing and interacting appropriately with other people.
Although the early acquisition of reading ability makes hyperlexia seem very different than dyslexia, both conditions are rooted in difficulties with understanding and using language. A child with hyperlexia is often highly intelligent, learning best from visually presented information. The difference is that the child with hyperlexia can easily manipulate and understand written symbols for language and concepts, but has problems with oral language. Your child with dyslexia has difficulty with symbols but will be stronger with verbal communication skills and in understanding concepts that language represents.
It is possible for a child to learn to read early without having hyperlexia; many intellectually gifted children easily acquire reading skills as early as age three or four. Occasionally, a child with dyslexia will also be an early reader; dyslexia will be diagnosed when the child encounters problems with advanced reading skills, writing, or spelling as she grows older.