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#5 - What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Receiving the Diagnosis series

· Wellness,Diagnosis,Support,Family Friends,Parenting

Episode #5 - Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASD look indistinguishable from you or I. It is typically their inability or difficulty with communication that sets them apart from others. 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. Many people with ASD have gone on to see significant improvements in their ability to function and have successful relationships with the support of various therapies that expand their ability to effectively communicate and navigate within their environments.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that previously were diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions combined are now all called autism spectrum disorder. Many therapies once thought to only be helpful for severely impacted individuals has been found to be helpful when tailored by a professional in that field of science to meet the persons unique needs.

Signs and Symptoms
People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life. While we have seen many people overcome these difficulties to the point of some even becoming indistinguishable as having autism, often people with ASD will require some level of support throughout the course of their lifespan. Children or adults with ASD might:

  • Not speak as well as his or her peers?
  • Have poor eye contact?
  • Not respond selectively to his or her name?
  • Act as if he or she is in his or her own world?
  • Seem to “tune others out?”
  • Not have a social smile?
  • Seem unable to tell you what he or she wants, preferring to lead you by the hand or get desired objects on his or her own, even at risk of danger?
  • Have difficulty following simple commands?
  • Not bring things to you simply to “show” you?
  • Not point to interesting objects to direct your attention to objects or events of interest?
  • Have unusually long and severe temper tantrums?
  • Have repetitive, odd, or stereotypic behaviors?
  • Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
  • Prefer to play alone?
  • Demonstrate an inability to play with toys in the typical way?
  • Not engage in pretend play (if older than 2 years)?

What to do if you think your child has Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects each individual differently and at varying degrees - this is why early diagnosis is so crucial. ASD is a lifelong condition, but early intervention contributes to lifelong positive outcomes.

  • Get a diagnosis. If you're concerned, see a doctor who's familiar with ASD. Don't assume the child will catch up. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers an online pediatrician referral service, searchable by specialty and location.
  • Get help. Education, intervention and speech therapy are often critical.
  • Know your rights. Children with autism can be eligible for early intervention and special education services that are free starting at age 3.  Your health insurance may include coverage for the medical services your child needs. 

M-CHAT-R (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised)