Getting a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can seem daunting to many parents and families. What does this mean? What are the symptoms? And what therapies are available?
We have done some research and digging and got some answers to central questions. This article is not an exhaustive list and will not answer all the questions. It is just a start and can help parents and caregivers bring these questions to their child’s doctor.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental differences believed to develop before children are three. Symptoms may also not show until later. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that children with autism can have difficulties with:
- certain behaviors
- understanding and expressing themselves verbally
- others difficulties with communication skills
- interacting well with others
- learning and comprehending what they are being taught
No concrete scientific evidence pinpoints whether genetic or environmental factors can cause autism. Research is still being conducted to determine if there are and what they could be.
What Are The Symptoms of Autism?
Although there are general symptoms that medical professionals look for while diagnosing whether a child is autistic, the symptoms can range and differ from person to person. The symptoms listed below are not exhaustive. It is recommended to talk to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns or questions about autism.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have symptoms that include:
- difficulty making and understanding facial expressions
- challenging behaviors
- challenges with social interactions
- repetitive behaviors and restricted interests
- difficulty understanding and expressing social communication
- developmental delays
- have been diagnosed with a developmental disorder not otherwise specified
- underdeveloped language skills
- be confined to restricted patterns in routines and throughout their day
- comprehending social cues and underdeveloped social skills
- head banging and other self-destructive behaviors
- limited or no eye contact
- not liking to be touched or other physical contact
- challenges with understanding what is being taught
Are Pervasive Developmental Disorder and autism similar?
Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) is considered a subtype of autism and has symptoms that include:
- difficulty understanding and expressing language skills
- challenges relating to and understanding others, tools and objects, and what is happening around them
- does not like changes in routine or new places
Children diagnosed with PDD don’t receive an autism diagnosis because they do not meet all the diagnostic criteria for autism.
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What do Childhood Disintegrative Disorder And Autism Have in Common?
Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) is also called Heller’s syndrome and disintegrative psychosis and is a rare condition that typically occurs between two to three years old. The symptoms include developmental delays in:
- language skills
- social interactions and skills
- fine motor and gross motor skills
Although CDD can be diagnosed with ASD, it is rare. If a child’s development is a primary concern, then a child can be diagnosed with both.
Is Early Diagnosis of Autism Beneficial?
With autism diagnosed in early childhood, there is an added benefit of a child receiving early intervention services. These early interventions can be beneficial due to the human brain’s plasticity and development, making it easier for younger children with autism to learn different skills earlier.
The earlier opportunities can also help set up routines for the child that they may need in the future. The earlier a diagnosis, the more options may be available for the child, depending on their location, insurance, and other factors.
What Are Some Therapies Available For Autism?
Many different types of services and therapies are available for children with autism. It is always best to discuss possibilities with the child’s doctor. They will have access to the available therapies that would be the most beneficial for the individual.
Therapies for autism can be broken down into seven categories, according to the CDC. These categories and examples provided below are only a partial listing of all available therapies, as they can change, and there is always the potential for more to be added or taken away later.
Here are the categories with examples of therapies available for children with autism available on the CDC website:
- Behavioral therapy: These can include Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) tracks progress as the child is encouraged to use and taught positive behaviors to replace previous negative behaviors
- Developmental therapy: These therapies hone specific developmental goals and skills and can combine with behavioral therapies. A couple of examples would be speech and language therapies and occupational therapies
- Education therapy: This can include special education classes and other supports listed in the child’s 504 or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or other plans available in the child’s school district. One specific example is the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH), which provides teachers the tools they need to create a classroom environment more suited for their autistic students and can include visual schedules, boundaries, and even unique learning stations to name a few
- Social-emotional therapy and support: These can consist of social skills groups and social stories that break down an event that the autistic child may be getting ready for into visual steps to prepare them for the activity better
- Medication: Although there is no medicine specified for autism spectrum disorders, there are medications that can help alleviate some symptoms of coexisting diagnosis, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety as a couple of examples
- Psychological therapy: This therapy focuses on helping individuals develop coping skills to help with stress, anxiety, and many other mental health conditions. One example is cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) which helps individuals develop strategies that connect their thoughts with feelings and behaviors, which should help the individual figure out better reactions to situations they may encounter
- Alternative therapies: These therapies are not always considered best practices, and discussing these options with the child’s doctor before attempting them is always recommended. Some alternative therapies can include music therapies, visiting a chiropractor, homeopathy, and more.
As stated at the beginning of this article, these questions about autism are far from all the questions parents may have. That’s okay because any questions or concerns can be brought up to the child’s physician and discussed at greater length.
Discussing these possible questions and concerns are great starting points that can lead to the journey of diagnosis and potential therapies and other support available to the child, their parents, caregivers, teachers, and other family members.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2023). Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Autism_Resource_Center/FAQ.aspx
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html
Deolinda, A. (2021). Pervasive Developmental Disorder vs Autism: Is There A Difference? https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/pervasive-developmental-disorder/
McPherson, D. (2022). Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: Does It Relate to Autism? https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/cdd-relevance-to-autism/