Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder

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What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, sometimes referred to as ASD, is a neurological disorder that affects 1 out of every 68 children, depending on the study conducted. A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder now includes several disorders that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s Syndrome. Autism affects a child's ability to interact with others, communicate, play, and learn. These disorders affect the brain, and may also affect areas like immune systems, gastric systems, or metabolic systems. Autism Spectrum Disorder may look very different from one child to another, because of the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviors. Children with autism generally have deficits or excesses in 3 areas:
  • Communication
  • Socialization
  • Behavior
A diagnosis of autism may be given by a pediatrician, family doctor, neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional. School district staff may also give a diagnosis, in order to qualify a child for school-based services. While there is no cure for autism, significant improvements in behavior, communication, and social functioning can be made through ABA therapy. At Acuity Behavior Solutions, we are dedicated to improving the lives of children with autism and their families. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term that includes Asperger’s Syndrome, and Autistic disorder, as well as Pervasive Developmental Disability. After ABA therapy, a child with autism generally demonstrates fewer of the symptoms of autism and functions in ways closer to typically developing children. Children with autism can learn to become more independent and self-sufficient through ABA therapy. Many children who have autism are diagnosed between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, but the diagnosis can be given earlier or later than these ages. Autism is much more common in boys than girls - about 4 boys are diagnosed with autism for every 1 girl diagnosed.

What are the characteristics?

Autism looks different from child to child. Because autism is a “spectrum,” the way each child acts may look different. Some children will demonstrate many symptoms, while others may be barely distinguishable from typically developing peers. The autism spectrum includes a wide range of behaviors, from children who don’t speak to children who speak well but have a monotone voice. Children with the diagnosis of autism may range from cognitively impaired to above average intelligence. Behaviors commonly seen in children on the autism spectrum fall into three main categories - communication, socialization and behavior:

How do children with Autism Communicate?

  • Delay in or lack of development of spoken language
  • Impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with other individuals
  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of language
  • Idiosyncratic language or cadence
  • Difficulty expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • Difficulty using or understanding nonverbal behaviors (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, gestures for social interaction)
  • Inability to or difficulty with making small talk, depending on age
  • Repetitive language: may repeat the same paragraph or word over and over
  • Lack of spontaneous language (e.g., copying what they have heard from a tv show, but not using their own language)
  • Awkward or strange use of body posture
  • Talking about the same topics repeatedly
  • Difficulty with voice volume control
  • Inappropriate or overly exaggerated facial expressions that don’t convey the message desired by the person with autism
  • Inability to or difficultly with understanding underlying meanings
  • Not understanding or being able to use sarcasm at age-typical levels

How do children with Autism Socialize?

  • Appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds or preferred items
  • Difficulty developing or maintaining relationships appropriate for a child of similar age
  • When interested in others, not knowing how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
  • Little or no facial expression, or difficulty using facial expressions in age-typical ways
  • Lack of peer normal and age-appropriate relationships
  • Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play
  • Lack of social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
  • Not pointing at objects to show interest to another person (e.g., not point at an airplane flying over)
  • Not looking at objects when another person points at the
  • Trouble relating to others
  • Low or lack of initiation
  • Low interest in other people or engaging with other people
  • Consistently avoiding eye contact or difficulty making age-appropriate eye contact
  • Lack of social and/or emotional reciprocity
  • Preference to be alone most of the time
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Preference not to be held or not to be touched
  • Difficulty with or inability to take the perspective of another person, when developmentally appropriate
  • Difficulty with or inability to predict the emotions of others
  • Difficulty with or inability to respond in socially appropriate ways
  • Strange or anti-social responses to emotional expressions (e.g., laughing when someone cries, making no expression when someone is hurt)
  • Preoccupation with objects over people

How do children with Autism Behave?

  • Tantrums which are more intense, longer, or more aggressive than typically developing children
  • Restricted repetitive and/or stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (e.g., lining up items)
  • Preoccupation with specific topics or items
  • Hyper-focus or lack of focus compared to similar aged peers
  • Stereotyped or restricted patterns of interest with abnormal levels of interest or focus
  • Inflexible adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped and/or repetitive motor movements (e.g., hand-flapping, toe-walking, repetitive jumping)
  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects (e.g., perseverative interest in wheels on cars)
  • Lack of spontaneity
  • Repetition of actions over and over again
  • Trouble adapting when a routine changes (e.g., tantrums or is visibly distressed when a different route is taken, when a morning routine is changed, or when a particular item is not available)
  • Unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound (e.g., extreme reactions to loud sounds, new foods, or certain textures)
  • Loss of skills they once had (e.g., losing words they used to say)
  • Lack of ability to attend to tasks for age-typical periods of time
  • Lack of behavioral control compared to similar aged peers
  • Lack of emotional stability compared to similar aged peers
  • Hyperactivity (e.g., not able to sit still, constantly moving, stands up constantly)

Helpful Links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html
About Autism Spectrum Disorders, including prevalence, symptoms, and developmental milestones for typical development
National Institute of Mental Health
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
Information about Autism Spectrum Disorder
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
http://www.asatonline.org
Research and articles about effective autism treatments
Behavior Analysis Certification Board
Information about Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and guidelines for delivery of behavioral services
Regional Center Directory
http://www.dds.ca.gov/rc/rclist.cfm
Resources and information about state disability services
Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies
http://www.behavior.org/
Resources and videos about Autism and ABA
Autism Speaks
https://www.autismspeaks.org
Autism and ABA information for parents and professionals
National Conference of State Legislatures
http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/autism-and-insurance-coverage-state-laws.aspx
State laws regarding insurance funding for autism – including CA mandate for insurance coverage of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Network International (ANI)
https://autreat.com/
Self-advocacy information for individuals with autism
Autism Science Foundation
http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/
Research, funding, and autism support
Autism Speaks, Inc.
http://www.autismspeaks.org
Autism events, news, and resources.
Autism Research Institute (ARI)
http://www.autismresearchinstitute.com
Research about Autism and related disorders

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