Autism can be diagnosed by a specialist in Developmental/Behavioral Pediatrics, Speech Pathology, Child Psychology or, Physical/Occupational Therapy around 18 months of age. The diagnosis is made through a formal developmental evaluation but, signs of ASD typically present earlier. Some common signs include:
- 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
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. For example, children who have one or more siblings on the spectrum are at higher risk. 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 (1).
The best-supported treatment for ASD is ABA (behavioral) therapy. 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 recommends starting early intervention services before age 3) ABA can help improve fine/gross motor skills; address behavioral concerns, like hitting or biting; improve communication & social skills to prepare a child for traditional school or daycare environments; and, help children reach developmental milestones like toilette training.