Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition related to brain development that affects how a person perceives and socializes with others. Autism meaning also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The “spectrum” in the name refers to the full range of symptoms and severity. Children will not behave or demonstrate the exact same behaviors.
Autism spectrum disorder includes previously separate conditions. Today, terms like “Aspergers and PDD NOS” are outdated.
For most children, early signs of Autism begin with their first year. While not common, a small number of children appear to develop normally in the first year and then go through regression between 18 and 24 months.
Research has shown that vaccines do not cause Autism. While there are no known causes of Autism, early intervention can make a significant difference.
There is no Autism test. Instead, an Autism diagnosis requires a team of professionals lead by a pediatrician. This team may include psychologists, counselors, parents, teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and is unique to the Autism diagnosis. A physician is involved in the diagnosis to rule out other physical and developmental disorders that may have symptoms similar to Autism.
A doctor will use the criteria from DSM 5 to make a diagnosis:
A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following:
1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; reduced sharing of interest or emotions; inability to initiate or respond to social interactions.
2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to problems in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to the absence of interest in peers.
B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history
Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech
Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior. e.g. Extreme distress at small changes. Difficulties with transitions. Rigid thinking patterns. Greeting rituals. Need to take the same route or eat food every day.
1.Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus e.g.Strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects. Excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest.
2. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
Once an Autism diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can begin. The recommendations for treatment will vary depending on your child, age, specific manifestations and behaviors. It is recommended that parents seek out a physician well versed in treating Autism and who operates under the Medical Home Model as treatment is most effective under a team approach using the Medical Home Model.
Professionals agree that intervening early is best. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner parents and professionals can customize treatment, and that treatment can become a regular part of a child’s life. Trying to make challenges, later on, are challenging as Autistic children struggle with change.
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