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Autism Spectrum Disorder: What is it and How is it Treated?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately one in every 160 children worldwide. However, WHO points out that this statistic is an average, and recorded prevalence varies widely between studies. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of every 54 children has ASD.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

ASD is a brain development disorder that involves deficits in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and behavior, including restricted and repetitive patterns of conduct.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Since there is no diagnostic test for ASD, such as a blood test or urinalysis, diagnosing the condition can be tricky. To make a diagnosis, doctors look at the child’s developmental history and behavior. Autism spectrum disorder can be discovered as early as 18 months of age. By the age of two, a complete medical examination can reliably detect the presence of the condition. Most children, however, do not receive the proper diagnosis until they are considerably older. As a result, children with ASD frequently do not receive the early attention they require.

Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of ASD:

Below are several characteristics of autism-related social, communicative, and behavioral impairments. Take note that the signs and symptoms of one child with autism spectrum disorder may differ from those of another. In addition, the number and severity of signs and symptoms of the condition can also vary greatly. If your child shows any of the following symptoms, get immediate medical attention from your family physician or pediatrician:

Six months:

  • There may not be many large laughs, smiles, or other warmer, cheerful, and captivating expressions, if any at all.
  • You may notice limited eye contact.

Nine months:

  • There may be little or no exchange of smiles, sounds, or other nonverbal cues.

A year:

  • You may notice that your child does not babble
  • There may be little or no reaction to their name.
  • There may be few or no back-and-forth movements like pointing, demonstrating, waving, or reaching.

Two years:

  • There are no (or very few) significant two-word expressions—not including repeating or imitating.

Behavioral differences in children with ASD:

Children with autism spectrum disorder may also exhibit strange behaviors or have uncommon interests. It could include things like:

  • Obsessions with rituals or routines—becoming agitated and hyper-anxious if a pattern is even slightly altered.
  • Hand flapping, rocking, bouncing, or whirling are examples of common repetitive behaviors.
  • Pacing (perpetual movement) and “hyper” conduct
  • Obsessions on activities or items
  • Their sensitivity to sound, light, or touch is exceptionally high.
  • Not engaging in “make-believe” play or emulating other people’s actions
  • Obsessive dietary habits
  • Clumsiness and poor coordination
  • Excessive impulsivity (not thinking before acting)
  • Self-aggressive and other-aggressive behavior
  • Attention and memory span is minimal.

ASD signs and symptoms at any age.

  • Speech, babbling, or social abilities previously gained are lost
  • Avoiding direct eye contact
  • Consistent desire to be alone
  • Having trouble comprehending other people’s emotions
  • Language development delay
  • Echolalia—recycling phrases or words
  • Minor adjustments in routine or environment add stress.
  • Interests that are constrained
  • Habitual patterns of behavior (stereotypic behavior)—for example, rocking, flapping, and spinning.
  • Responses to sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, lights, or colors that are strange and extreme.

Treatment options for autism

The importance of an early ASD diagnosis and prompt and effective interventions in ensuring the best feasible prognosis for the child cannot be overstated. ASD can be diagnosed at any age, even in less than six months of birth. The standard treatment options for ASD include:

  1. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

This treatment approach aims to modify behavior in a structured way using learning concepts drawn from behavioral and social psychology. ABA promotes desirable habits while discouraging bad ones. ABA also teaches new abilities and allows them to be applied to different contexts.

  1. Speech Therapy

Speech therapies are effective therapeutic options for persons with ASD since they may struggle with interpersonal communication difficulties. Speech therapy with a certified speech therapist can improve an individual’s communication abilities, allowing them to express their needs and desires more effectively. Speech treatment for children with ASD is most successful when the therapist collaborates with teachers, support staff, caregivers, families, peers, and classmates to encourage communication skills in natural contexts.

  1. Occupational Therapy (OT)

OT works to improve cognitive behavioral difficulties in individuals with ASD. It also teaches daily skills like dressing, kitchenware handling, and writing, which all require fine motor skills. Occupational therapy aims to improve a person’s quality of life and capacity to participate in everyday routines.

  1. Physical Therapy (PT)

Therapists typically use PT to strengthen gross motor skills and address sensory integration difficulties, especially those relating to a person’s capacity to feel and be alert of his position in space. It collaborates with occupational therapy to teach and enhance skills like walking, eating, sitting, coordination, standing, and balance. 

  1. Medications

Pharmaceutical therapies can help with impatience, hostility, and self-injurious conduct, which are all behavioral characteristics of ASD. Furthermore, other treatments, such as ABA, are more effective if distracting or anxious behaviors are medically reduced.  

If you or someone you know is living with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and would like support, information, or resources, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today! 

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