If You Have Seen One Child With Autism, You Have Seen One Child With Autism.
Autism is not a single, easily described disorder. In fact, there are unlimited ways in which a person with autism might be affected. The range of behaviors and challenges associated with autism is so wide that the term Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is used in order to encompass them all.
The onset of autism typically comes very early in childhood, and is often noticeable well before the child’s second birthday. A diagnosis of autism usually occurs before age three.
Three main areas of development are considered when diagnosing autism:
An early evaluation by a physician or team of specialists is critical in order to get the correct diagnosis. Having a diagnosis can be the key to securing the most appropriate services for the child’s needs.
Autism exists in 1% of the population, affecting people of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. It is, however, more common in boys than in girls. Overall intellectual ability, or IQ, varies dramatically in children with autism, and it is difficult to predict how a child’s symptoms will change over time.
Autism often exists alongside other childhood disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety disorders and seizure disorders.
Included in the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is Asperger’s Syndrome, which has similar characteristics to autism. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome typically do not experience communication delays or deficits but still struggle significantly with social interactions. They often have restricted and repetitive interests and behaviors that dominate their attempts to socialize with others. In addition, while they do not have deficits in language, they often struggle when trying to use language appropriately in social situations.
Other disorders such a Rett’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder are included in the range of conditions in the Autism Spectrum.
How is Autism Treated?
There have been tremendous advancements in autism treatment in the last generation. Each year new research and technology breaks new ground. While there is no known cure for autism, treatment based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and education can reduce some of the challenges associated with it. Through intervention, children with autism acquire the skills they need to participate in their schools and communities and enjoy meaningful adult lives.
There are many different types of autism treatment and programs available. Since no one treatment is right for all children, it is important to explore and understand all the options available to decide what is most appropriate for your child.
Here is an overview of the types of treatment categories:
Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is the most widely researched and scientifically validated intervention for autism. It has become widely accepted among health care professionals and is utilized in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA therapy teaches skills while reducing problematic behaviors in order to improve quality of life. The child’s progress is measured and these data serve to inform the ongoing development of the program.
Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development. Early Intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills, such as using language to communicate effectively, developing social skills that enable friendships and positive interactions with others, and help to decrease behavioral issues. ABA Early Intervention programs can be conducted in a fun, play-based setting either in-home or clinic-based.
It is extremely important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you think your child may have autism or another developmental issue so that early intervention services can begin.
The overall goal of Occupational Therapy is to help a child with autism improve his or her quality of life at home and in school. OT therapists help introduce, maintain, and improve skills so the child with autism can grow to be as independent as possible.
In Occupational Therapists work to support Gross Motor skills that pertain to major body movement such as walking, coordination, maintaining balance, and reaching. Fine motor skills such as writing are also a focus of OT.
Speech therapy can address a wide range of communication problems for children with autism. These problems can include both speech and nonverbal communication as well as social interaction. Speech therapy is usually a central part treatment for autism.
There is no medication that directly treats the main symptoms of autism. Some medications, however, can help some related issues such as seizures, depression or attention deficit disorder (ADHD). Consult with your doctor to discuss the possible use of medication as part of your treatment plan. Click here for a full list of conditions associated with autism. (Link to Medical Conditions Associated with Autism Page)
WHAT AUTISM LOOKS LIKE
What Autism Looks Like
Approximately one percent of our population has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We use the term Autism Spectrum Disorder because it is such a diverse diagnosis. Someone with autism may be indistinguishable from same-age peers because their symptoms present in only minor ways while others with the diagnosis have more demonstrative signs.
Symptoms of autism can be seen in the following areas:
COMMUNICATION: Communication develops slowly and for some individuals verbal language does not develop at all.
SOCIAL INTERACTION: Difficulty detecting and responding to social cues such as eye contact or smiles; prefers to play alone and shows little interest in making friends.
SENSORY IMPAIRMENT: May have increased sensitivity relating to senses (light, noise, smell, taste and touch).
PLAY: Does not initiate play, does not engage in pretend play or lacks spontaneous, imaginative play, plays with toys in a rote manner.
BEHAVIOR: Throws tantrums for no apparent reason. Fixates on a single item, person, subject or activity. Has difficulty changing routine. May be aggressive towards self or others. May be overactive or passive.
It is important to note that only a minor segment of the autism population may have savant (or gifted) abilities. Intellectual ability is not part of the autism diagnosis and can range greatly. This has been over-hyped in the media, with savant skills being confused with what the diagnosis of ASD actually involves.
TALKING ABOUT AUTISM
Talking About Autism
Unfortunately, autism is a subject that often scares people. They fear if they say the word or suggest the possibility that a loved one has autism they will offend, insult or frighten the family.
The truth is, children would be far better off if more people had the courage to start this conversation. We know that early intervention makes a profound difference in the life of a person with autism, so the sooner autism is identified, the sooner treatment can begin. The value of the diagnosis is the door that it opens, offering parents access to life-changing services.
If a friend or loved one has a child exhibiting signs that he or she may have autism, please speak up. Your knowledge and caring could be the key to that child getting the help they need.
These are not easy conversations. Here are some tips to help you bring up the subject of autism with a friend or family member.
SHARE OBSERVATIONS (GENTLY!):
Sharing that you have observed concerning behavior in someone’s child is sensitive territory. It is difficult to say and often harder to hear. Phrase your observations as softly as possible, for example, “I recently learned some interesting facts about child development. As I was reading, I found myself thinking of your child. I know this may be difficult to answer, but have you ever considered that your child may need some support with her development?”
ASK USEFUL QUESTIONS:
Once the subject of autism is broached, asking useful questions can lead to a meaningful discussion. Sample questions include:
What have you noticed?
Has your son had any developmental delays or missed any milestones?
Have you observed any other challenges in communication or behavior?
What would you like to see happen for him now?
Are you open to an idea that may help?
MAKE HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS: Only a professional can make an autism diagnosis. Offer helpful suggestions. Example, “I think an assessment with a trained professional would identify his strengths and clarify any areas where support is needed. Can I help you research or set up appointments?”
CARE: As stated, autism is not an easy topic to discuss. Understand that a parent might be frightened or defensive, and make it clear that you have their (and their child’s) best interests in mind.
The courage and support of family and friends can make a remarkable difference in the life of child with ASD. Thank you for caring enough for a child to read this page. We hope you’ll share it with others to encourage more awareness and conversations about autism.
SIGNS OF AUTISM
The Signs of Autism
Research has shown that early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in the life of a person who has autism. So what should you look for?
Some common early signs during infancy are a lack of:
Other behaviors to watch out for are:
Signs of autism can be seen as early as six months of age. Every infant develops at their own pace, so don’t be alarmed if your child is a little late to develop a skill. But if your child is not meeting multiple milestones for his/ her age, or if you feel a skill or behavior is “fading away”, this should be taken seriously. Trust your instincts—if you sense that your child is not developing normally, consult your doctor and seek a screening to determine whether a more detailed evaluation is warranted.
Parents are often told to “wait and see” by their doctors. Be persistent: seek a second opinion or ask for a referral to a child development specialist. Research is clear that intervention should begin as soon as there is any suspicion of developmental delay in order to capitalize on the brain growth of young children as well as the brain’s ability to change in response to repeated stimulation. Early treatment can take advantage of the plasticity of your baby’s brain and help your baby develop the necessary skills that form the foundation for further development and skills acquisition. The sooner you intervene, the better your child’s chances are for improvement.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS ABOUT AUTISM
The following books can be helpful to anyone whose life includes a person with autism:
Right from the Start: Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism, second edition (Topics in Autism)
by Sandra L. Harris (Ph.D.) and Mary Jane Weiss (Ph.D. BCBA)
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
by Ellen Notbohm
The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism—What You Really Need to Know About Autism: from Autistics, Parents and Professionals:
Edited by Shannon Des Roches Rosa, Jennifer Byde Myers, Liz Ditz, Emily Willingham and Carol Greenberg.
by Melissa Martinez Areffi and Andrew Areffi
Dr. Thompson's Straight Talk On Autism
by Travis Thompson
Making Sense of Autism
by Travis Thompson
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum: 101 Inspirational Stories for Parents of Children with Autism and Asperger's
by Dr. Rebecca Landa, Mary Beth Marsden
Ido in Autismland
by Ido Kedar
by Arthur and Carly Fleischmann
Thinking in Pictures
by Temple Grandin