Autism is a developmental disorder that begins in early childhood, and it is characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism afflicts one out of every 150 children and tends to affect about five boys to every one girl.
Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), a category of disorders that is often described interchangeably with the broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults called the autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Some children may have speech, whereas others may have little or no speech. Less severe cases may be diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or with Asperger’s Syndrome (these children typically have normal speech, but they have many “autistic” social and behavioral problems)
The ways in which autism is exhibited can differ greatly amongst children. Left untreated, many autistic children will not develop effective social skills and may not learn to talk or behave appropriately.
Early Signs of Autism
While not all children exhibited these early signs are autistic, the presence of more than 1 in each each category may serve as a warning sign to parents.
|Area of Development||Warning Signs|
How is Autism Diagnosed?
There is no single test available to diagnose ASD. Instead, diagnosis is based on watching how the child plays and interacts with others (current development), interviewing parents, and reviewing the child’s developmental history (past development).
By using a combination of tools, professionals can diagnose a child with ASD, and determine where on the spectrum the child falls.
Some of the tests and screening measures that can assist in the diagnosis of ASD include:
· Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
· Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI)
When diagnosing autism, professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists will refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). This tool breaks down the signs and symptoms of ASD into categories. It also states how many of these must be present in each category to confirm a diagnosis of ASD in children over three years of age.
When the child is older, he/she should also receive a cognitive assessment (IQ test), which can identify developmental strengths and weaknesses. The assessment will also identify whether your child has an intellectual disability, common in many (but not all) children with autism. It will also be useful for school placement purposes.
Interventions for Autism
There is no cure for ASDs. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. Most health care professionals agree that the early, consistent interventions would yield the best results.
Some of the more common interventions for Autistic Children include:
Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with an ASD often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with a child with an ASD.
Based on the principles of ABA, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a way for people with autism to communicate without relying on speech. Instead, they use cards that feature pictures, symbols, words or photographs which represent tasks, actions or objects
Many autistic individuals have sensory problems, which can range from mild to severe. These problems involve either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimulation. Sensory integration focuses primarily on three senses — vestibular (i.e., motion, balance), tactile (i.e., touch), and proprioception (e.g., joints, ligaments). Many techniques are used to stimulate these senses in order to normalize them and it is usually done through Occupational Therapy.
This may be beneficial to many autistic children, and when integrated with other home and school programs, will help enhance the quality of speech and communication.
Doctors may prescribe medications for treatment of specific autism-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Antipsychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more anticonvulsant drugs. Medication used to treat people with attention deficit disorder can be used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.