What is ASD?
There’s a famous quote from Dr. Stephen Shore, “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of neuro-developmental disorders caused by differences in the brain.
There is great concern that rates of autism have been drastically increasing in recent decades without a full explanation as to why.
Researchers have found that some people with ASD have known differences, such as specific genetic conditions like Fragile X Syndrome (which causes intellectual disability) and Tuberous Sclerosis (which causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs). Other causes are not yet known.
While we still have much more to learn about this lifelong complex developmental disorder and how it impacts individuals with ASD, we do know the severity of impairment in functioning varies between every individual. People with ASD typically have persistent challenges with communication, learning, and social interaction and may display repetitive patterns of behavior or have narrow, restricted interests. It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms. For people with ASD, these characteristics can make life very challenging.
The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability in functioning that can occur in people with ASD. Some children and adults with ASD are fully able to perform all activities of daily living while others require substantial support to perform basic activities. Learning and thinking can range from extremely gifted to needing severe help.
ASD occurs in every racial and ethnic group, and across all socioeconomic levels. However, statistically, males are diagnosed with autism more often than females, albeit this ratio is changing over time.
How is ASD diagnosed?
Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. During periodic checkups, Doctors should look for any noticeable delays in the child’s behavior or development, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children specifically for autism at 18- and 24-month well-child pediatric visits.
Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:
- no babbling or pointing by age 1
- no single words by age 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- no response to name
- loss of language or social skills previously acquired
- poor eye contact
- excessive lining up of toys or objects
- no smiling or social responsiveness
Later indicators include:
- impaired ability to make friends with peers
- impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- repetitive or unusual use of language
- abnormally intense or focused interest
- preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
Studies have shown that early diagnosis and intervention of autism is more likely to have major long-term positive effects on symptoms and development of later skills. In general, the earlier ASD is diagnosed, the better the outcome is for the child. Unfortunately, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they are much older, and some are not diagnosed until they are adolescents or even adults.
How is ASD treated?
While there is no “cure” for autism, there are several effective interventions that can improve a child’s functioning:
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): The gold standard of treatment for autism, ABA is the proven science and data-driven approach that involves a systematic study of the child’s functional challenges, which is used to create a structured behavioral plan for improving their adaptive skills and decreasing inappropriate behavior
- Early intervention: Programs like the Behavior Exchange Early Start (B.E.E.S.) focus on foundational early learning and social skills giving children the tools to help make a smooth transition to school and successfully interact with peers
- Social skills training: Social Skills Groups help children learn and practice important social skills for making friends and fulfilling connections with peers
- Parent training: Children are most successful when parents can continue practicing techniques at home and in other real-life settings and they have the tools to use anywhere and in any situation with their child
- Special Education Services: Special education services picks up where early intervention services leave off. The goal is to align your child’s school environment with their behavioral goals to ensure the best outcomes. ARD/IEP advocacy can provide an expert voice for families during special education service meetings and processes in schools.
- ABA School Support: Providing schools and entire school districts with supplemental ABA therapy services to meet new challenges
What to do if I suspect my child has autism?
Contact your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician if you think your child might have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or if you have any other developmental delay concerns about the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts.