Autism Spectrum Disorder
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
ASD is a developmental condition that affects communication and behavior and is caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD may communicate, behave, interact and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because the abilities of people with ASD vary widely. Some may require lots of help with daily tasks while others can work and live with little to no support.
ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a person’s life, though symptoms may improve over time. Some children show ASD symptoms before 12 months of age while others may not show symptoms until 24 months or later. Some children with ASD gain new skills and meet developmental milestones until around 18-24 months of age and then stop gaining new skills or lose the skills they once had.
Some people with high-functioning autism may not receive a diagnosis until much later in life either because their symptoms are very subtle or because they are able to “mask” their symptoms to avoid being identified as “different.”
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Social Communication and Interaction Skills
People with ASD have difficulty with social communication and interaction. A very young child might:
- Avoid or not keep eye contact
- Not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age
- Not share interests with others (e.g., not show parent a favorite object) by 15 months of age
- Not point or look at what others point to by 18 months of age
- Not notice when others are hurt or sad by 24 months of age
- Not engage in pretend play (e.g., “feeding” a doll) by 30 months of age
- Show little interest in other children
Older children and adults with ASD might:
- Tend not to look at or listen to people
- Have trouble with the back and forth of conversation
- Often talk at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
- Use facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said
- Speak in an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like
- Have trouble understanding another person’s point of view or be unable to predict or understand other people’s actions
Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors or Interests
People with ASD have behaviors or interests that can seem unusual and they might:
- Repeat certain behaviors (e.g., repeat words or phrases, flap hands, rock body, or spin in circles)
- Have a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts
- Have overly focused interests, such as moving objects or parts of objects
- Get upset by slight changes in a routine, line up objects and get upset when the order is changed, or play with toys the same way every time
- Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
Some people with ASD have other characteristics that might include:
- Delayed language skills
- Delayed movement skills
- Delayed cognitive or learning skills
- Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior
- Epilepsy or seizure disorder
- Unusual eating and sleeping habits
- Gastrointestinal issues (e.g., constipation)
- Unusual mood or emotional reactions
- Anxiety, stress, or excessive worry
- Lack of fear or more fear than expected
- Lack of coordination, clumsiness
What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?
While an exact cause is unknown, research suggests that ASD may be related to differing combinations of the following factors:
- Differences in brain structure or function
- Problems during pregnancy or delivery
- Environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances and exposure to chemicals
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
A comprehensive developmental evaluation can determine whether a person meets criteria for an autism diagnosis and guide appropriate treatments. This evaluation typically involves observation, structured tests, an interview and questionnaires.
Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism treatment may include:
- Applied Behavior Therapy (ABA Therapy)
- Behavioral, psychological and educational therapy – These programs are typically highly structured and intensive and may involve other family members. They may help people with ASD to learn skills, reduce challenging behaviors and build upon strengths.
- Medication – Medications can improve mood problems, aggression, repetitive behavior, hyperactivity, and attention issues.
- TMS – Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive treatment that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), disorders which some people with autism also experience. So, while TMS doesn’t treat autism, it may help a person with autism feel better and function better, if they also struggle with depression or OCD.
Why Seek Help for Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The earlier that treatment for ASD begins, the more likely it is to maximize a person’s ability to function and improve their quality of life. However, people of all ages can benefit from well-designed interventions.
If you suspect that you or someone you love has ASD, contact Athena Care today.
One of our friendly associates will help you get the help you need. Take this first step toward a better life.