What Is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects primarily communication and social skills. Like other developmental conditions, Autism exists on a Spectrum meaning each child diagnosed with ASD will have unique strengths and challenges.
Typically, Autism is identified early in life, around 18-24 months, but may not be officially diagnosed until later in a child’s development. Part of our mission is to assist parents in getting a diagnostic evaluation as soon as possible once signs of ASD are identified. This allows a family to access early-intervention services that help a child on the Spectrum catch up with typically developing peers and prepare for a school environment.
Signs of Autism
Autism presents differently in each child. For example, around 30% of children on the Spectrum are limited or non-verbal (NIH/Medical News Today) where as around 70% of kids on the Spectrum don’t have any major challenges in this area.
There’s also evidence to suggest that signs of Autism may present differently in women and girls. Girls may have what some healthcare professionals consider a “quieter presentation” of symptoms (Child Mind Institute). Some studies have also shown that girls on the Spectrum may have fewer repetitive behaviors often associated with ASD (Stanford University, 2005).
All that being said, there are some common signs of Autism that can help you determine if your child should be evaluated.
- Delays in early development
- Challenges connecting with others
- Trouble expressing needs
- Struggling to adapt to changes in routine
- Limited imaginative (pretend) play
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Repetitious behavior
- Strong preference for one specific interest
- A loss of previously mastered skills
What Causes Autism?
There is no single cause or clear-cut explanation for why some children have ASD. However, there is evidence indicating that Autism is, at least partially, caused by genetics. Children who have one or more siblings on the Spectrum are at higher risk of being on the Spectrum themselves. And, children born with certain genetic conditions are more likely to be diagnosed with Autism. We also know that children with older parents have higher rates of ASD.
Additionally, while there is no scientific link between vaccines and ASD, some prescription medications (specifically valproic acid and thalidomide) have been proven to increase a child’s risk if taken during pregnancy.
Autism can be diagnosed by a number of different specialists. Most commonly, children are evaluated by a Pediatric Psychologist or Developmental Pediatrician. Board-Certified Behavior Analysts are also able to provide testing services with additional training and certification.
The majority of children are diagnosed around age four. However, improvements in testing make it possible to diagnose Autism between 18-24 months of age. Families who suspect their child is on the Spectrum are encouraged to seek diagnosis as soon as a reliable test can be performed.
What Types of Therapies Are There For Autism?
The best-supported therapy for ASD is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). And, while behavioral therapy can’t cure ASD, it can help reduce some of the challenges children on the Spectrum face.
Especially when started at a young age – the CDC suggests starting early intervention services before age three – ABA can help improve fine/gross motor skills; address behavioral concerns, like hitting or biting; improve communication skills; prepare a child for traditional school or daycare environments; and, help children reach developmental milestones like toilette training.
Other types of therapy like Occupational or Speech, Music and Art therapies have proven successful for kids on the Spectrum as well. Often, families will utilize a combination of therapies best suited to their child’s needs or interests.