Autism Spectrum Disorder and what it is
Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term complex developmental disability that is characterized by difficulty in things such as verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, making eye contact, holding a conversation, and motor coordination. It has an adverse effect on normal brain function and is thought to be genetic and environmental in nature. ASD is an umbrella term for a group of different disorders and is a wide-spectrum disorder, meaning any two people with the disorder will most likely not have the same symptoms. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be classified in many ways ranging from mild and high-functioning to severe and low-functioning, but is generally used for those with Autism. There are 4 types of generally categorized ASDs, they are: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
ASD symptoms that are common
There is a list of things that are commonly found among kids with ASD, the most common being debilitated social interaction. Each individual child will show different symptoms and vary in the severity level on the Autistic Spectrum.
Children with ASD may tend to:
• Lack an interest in relationships
• Make minimal to no eye contact
• Not respond when their name is called
• Have a repetitive use of language if they speak at all
• Have difficulty identifying and understanding the emotions of others
• Show little interest for their environment
• Have trouble changing activities
• Not be able to initiate a conversation
• Not understand basic questions or commands
• Develop habits or specific routines and become distressed when these are interrupted
• Fixate on an object, activity, or person with unusual intensity
• Display hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity
• Using and comprehending gestures
• Lack make believe or imaginative playing
• Not smile or have social awareness
About Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)
Asperger’s Syndrome is an ASD that is generally milder than Classic Autism and is defined in a few characteristic ways. The IQ’s of those with Asperger’s falls within the normal to high range, unlike those with classic Autism who usually score lower. Asperger’s can be likened to High-functioning Autism in that they generally have most of their cognitive and language faculties in place. By definition, a child with Asperger’s cannot have a clinically significant cognitive disability. These children tend to have a narrowly fanatical or obsessive type interest in a select few categories and often become experts at the subjects, such as the names of different types of bugs.
Children with Asperger’s may flap their hands or have other repetitive movements, much like how children with Classic Autism do, and they display many of the same social dysfunctions as Autistic children do. While children with Autism usually aren’t interested in forming social relationships, these children do want to but they often don’t know how. They may:
• Not make eye contact when conversing
• Have trouble understanding body language
• Be clumsy with their movements
• Have trouble understanding social context
• Use formal speech
• Have unusual rituals and patterns that are methodically maintained
• Talk only about their favorite subject in conversation
About Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is an ASD that is markedly less definable than Autism and is alternatively known as Atypical Autism. The children diagnosed with this ASD have some of the same symptoms as the other ASDs but do not meet the specific criteria for Autism or the other ASDs. It, like the other disorders is characterized by hardships in language and social development, but is often more mild than Classic Autism. It is called Atypical Autism because of a possible late onset, symptoms that do not match normal autism, or symptoms that are less severe than normal autism.
Children with this diagnosis are known to have one category of symptoms such as communication impairment, but lacking in another category such as repetitive behavior. These kids are generally considered too social to be Autistic and are differentiated from those with Asperger’s because of delayed speech and impaired cognition. Some children with PDD-NOS meet all the criteria for Autism but have noticeably mild repetitive behavior, while some have symptoms that most resemble Autism but do not meet all the diagnostic symptoms.
About Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
This is a rare condition in which a child develops normally until about 3-4 years of age then shows a severe regressive period where the child loses many of their language, social, and motor skills. CDD can appear later than Autism (as late as 10 years of age) and these kids can have a more substantial loss of skills than children with Autism. Symptoms of this disorder include considerable losses in 2 or more of these categories: Language, Bowel or bladder control, Motor skills, Social skills, Play.
Diagnosis can be made with the help of home movie videos to show the path of regression from prior behaviors/skills, along with tests and checkups. CDD occurs in an estimated 2 out of 100,000 kids and is about 10 times rarer than other ASDs. The treatment for this disorder is the same as with the other ASDs.
How is ASD diagnosed?
Since there are so many variants of ASD with children ranging in their symptoms, diagnosis will be different for every child. There is no specific medical test to determine ASD but there are comprehensive tests that can be given to help health care professionals have a better understanding of a child’s possible diagnosis. Use of questionnaires to gather information about the child’s behavior from the Child’s parents is common. Clinicians and specialists conduct a variety of neurological assessments and different types of tests to screen the child for tell-tale signs of ASD.
The onset of ASD is usually before 3 years of age and this is the time when the child starts to display many of the early symptoms. Other conditions might be confused with ASD or be present with the child such as ADHD or Sensory-Processing Disorder (SPD) and can have symptoms that are very similar to ASD. This is called Differential diagnosis. Many tests of the child’s behavior and skills are needed before any accurate diagnosis can be made. Single observations in any one setting cannot provide an accurate depiction of a child’s abilities and behaviors, thus the entire developmental history is needed to make an accurate diagnosis.
How ASD can be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder nor is there any one single treatment for it. The goal of any treatment is to reduce the symptoms and to allow the child to live as close to a normal, productive life as possible. Different types of treatment involve medication, diet, behavior and communication therapy, as well as alternative methods. Learning and development are stressed so that the child can learn to be somewhat self-sufficient as he or she grows up. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a popular treatment that works on creating more positive behaviors and getting rid of the negative ones. There are different kinds of ABA that can all be used to treat a child with ASD. See Applied Behavior Analysis to learn more.