WHAT IS AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.
CHARACTERISTICS & RISK FACTORS
What are the Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Children with autism may display the following traits and behaviors:
- Problems with eye contact
- Unusual gestures or body language
- Disinterest in social interaction
- Appears less interested in building or maintaining relationships
- Hypersensitivity to sensory input
- Seemingly rigid behavior
- Unusual vocalizations (in tone, pitch, or inflection)
- Intense or unusual abilities and interests
- High performance (well above average) in a singular or narrow subject
What Causes Autism in Children?
There is no known cause of autism. However, there are some increased risk factors associated with autism. Parents aware of these increased risk factors should be mindful of any signs or symptoms of autism in a toddler or child.
ASD “Increased Risk” Factors:
- Babies born prematurely
- Infants with low birth weight
- Babies born in a multiple birth (e.g. twins, triplets)
- Children born to older parents
- Children with a sibling or parent with ASD
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
What are Common Signs or Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Many parents start noticing the signs of autism once a child leaves infancy and reaches the toddler age group. Signs or symptoms of autism in toddlers include the following:
- Delayed speech and language
- Using only a few, repetitive gestures (waving, clapping, flapping, pointing, pounding)
- Delay in response when someone calls their name
- Unfocused eye contact
- Not expressing enjoyment in peer activity or the interests of others
- Usual movements of hands, wrists, fingers, or entire body
- Seeming hyper-focused or unusually attached to specific objects
- Little to no interest in pretending (“make-believe”), imitating, or role play
- Unusual sensory interests or activities
- Unique rituals or fixations (e.g. repetitive behaviors that can last uninterrupted for hours)
- Using someone else’s hand as a tool (e.g. placing someone’s hand over a container to open the lid)
As a child gets older and enters preschool age, other signs or symptoms of autism include the following:
- Seeming disinterest in forming friendships
- Disinterest in spontaneous play
- Not knowing how to shift behavior in different social situations; difficulty adapting to change
- Resistant response to new environments
- Unusually intense interest in very specific or narrow topics or activities
- Echolalia (repetition of words or phrases)
- Eating, sleeping, or toileting difficulties
- Poor awareness of basic dangers (e.g. wandering or self-injury)
- Sensitivity to visual, auditory, or tactile sensations
Since no two people with autism display all of the same signs or symptoms, it is important to contact a medical professional for a complete evaluation.
HOW COMMON IS ASD?
How Common is Autism in Children?
Autism is a “spectrum disorder,” meaning that it affects each child differently. According to the Center for Disease Control, autism affects as many as 1 in 59 children in the United States today. Although it may appear that autism is on the rise more than ever before, part of prevalence of autism is the rise of the accurate diagnosis. In the past, children may have been misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, or diagnosed as “general special needs.” Now that our awareness and understanding of autism has increased exponentially, physicians can provide an accurate autism diagnosis and recommend individualized programs for children across the autism spectrum. Parents are encouraged to take advantage of the services available from The Warren Center.
DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT
How is Autism Diagnosed and Treated?
You should inform your pediatrician of autism symptoms during a checkup. Most doctors now perform screening tests at 18-month and 2-year visits. If the screening raises concerns, a team of developmental specialists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists might also perform an evaluation. Once diagnosed, treatment includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and social skills therapy to maximize adaptive skills. Children may also receive special help with learning in groups and minimizing repetitive or self-harming behaviors. Contact The Warren Center for services available for children with autism spectrum disorder.