Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a complex neurological developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for ASD, however the prevalence has risen to 1 in every 150 American children, with 1.5 million Americans living with the effects of ASD today. Although the number of diagnosed cases is rising, it’s not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism, a real increase in the number of cases, or both.
Though symptoms and severity vary, ASD affects a child’s ability in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior. Again, the symptoms of ASD vary greatly and two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have strikingly different skills. For this reason ASD is now referred to as a “spectrum disorder”. Below are some of the symptoms exhibited by the “Autism Spectrum Disorders” population.
- Lack of or delay in spoken language (does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by one year; does not speak one word by 16 months; does not combine two words by two years; does not respond to name; or loses language or social skill)
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Fails to respond to his or her name
- Little or no eye contact
- Resists cuddling
- Appears not to hear you at times
- Lack of interest in peer relationships, and appears to retreat in their own world
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
- Performs repetitive movements such as rocking, hand flapping or spinning
- Develops specific routines or rituals and is upset if there are changes to their schedule
- May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch and yet oblivious to pain
Currently, no medical test exists to determine if a child has or will develop ASD. Diagnosis can be difficult for doctors because ASD varies widely in severity and symptoms, and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected individuals or in those with multiple disabilities. Therefore, when evaluating a child, clinicians rely on behavioral characteristics to make a diagnosis. A multidisciplinary team is the most effective way to make the diagnosis and parents play a vital role in this evaluation. Additional team members may include pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, language pathologists, occupational therapists, and teachers. Some of the characteristic behaviors of ASD might be apparent in the first few months of a child’s life, but most often they appear at any time during the early years. A clinical diagnosis would come from an observed problem in at least one of the areas of communication, socialization, or restricted behavior before the age of three.
There is no cure for autism, however intensive, early treatment can make an enormous difference in the lives of many children with the disorder. Research is ongoing to examine the cause and most effective strategies to mitigate the symptoms of ASD.
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