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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects communication and social interactions. Autism is a “spectrum disorder” because there is a broad range of symptoms associated with it, from mild to moderate to severe. There is no known definitive cause of ASD, and for unknown reasons its diagnosis is on the rise in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Preven- tion (2012) has reported that one in eighty-eight children are identified with ASD. According to the Autism Society (accessed 2012), the following are pos- sible signs of autism in young children: • • • • • • lack of or delay in spoken language repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (for example, flap- ping hands, twirling objects) little or no eye contact lack of interest in peer relationships lack of spontaneous or make-believe play persistent fixation on parts of objects Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is sometimes referred to as the mildest form of ASD. Children with AS often demonstrate good or even highly advanced lan- guage and cognitive skills, but they may be socially awkward and have trouble making eye contact. Children with AS often develop an interest in a specific topic, such as baseball or bridges, and memorize surprisingly large numbers of facts about this area of interest. Some children who are exceptionally bright, especially those who show a strong and intense fascination with a single topic, might also demonstrate behaviors that are similar to the symptoms of AS and ASD. Only a trained professional such as a developmental pediatrician or a pediatric neurologist is qualified to make a diagnosis of AS or ASD. As early childhood professionals, we must exercise extreme caution and sensitivity in how we talk to children’s families about what we are observing in the classroom. We must take care to describe only what we see and never hint or suggest to families that AS or ASD might be a possible diagnosis. Our role is to encourage family members to seek additional consultation, screening, and evaluation. Exceptionally bright children with ASD or AS, or those who have symp- toms and behaviors that are similar to children with ASD or AS, may present unique challenges in the early childhood classroom environment. Many treat- ments and responses have been shown to be effective in helping individuals COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Characteristics of Exceptionally Bright Children | 13