What is autism?

Autism is a neurological developmental disorder that affects 3 main components of those affected.  Social skills, communication skills and behaviors.  Autism currently affects roughly 1 in 100-110 children although these numbers are changing daily. One out of four of those affected are boys. Although it has not been documented, one report stated that autism is more common than freckles! This may not be a reliable nor a verifiable fact but it does highlight the fact that autism spectrum disorder(ASD) is becoming more and more common.

We often hear that autism is a SPECTRUM disorder.  By this they mean that there is a wide range of symptoms, disability, ability and variety within the diagnosis.  For instance one child may be extremely verbal yet unable to handle friendships; another child may be completely nonverbal while yet another can speak yet spends most of their time lining up their toys or focused on the same Disney movie for hours on end.

Just think that every color has numerous shades and there are hundreds of colors.  In autism there are multiple shades of ability and disability and there are hundreds of symptoms that may or may not be present.  It has been said that If you know one person with Autism then you know ONE person with Autism.  The message is the same – no two individuals with ASD present the same way.

What are the main sub-groups of Autism?

1. Pervasive Developmental Delay – NOS (PDD-NOS)

●      People who display some , but not all of the characteristics of autism or aspergers syndrome may be labeled with PDD-NOS.  The characteristics are usually fewer and/or less intense.

2. Asperger’s Syndrome

●      Those labeled with Asperger’s generally have milder symptoms of autism such as problems with social interaction or unusual behaviors or interests.  Rarely do they experience delays in language or cognitive  development.

3. Autism Disorder

●       Those who are determined to be autistic or having autism spectrum disorder  usually have significant language delays, problems with social interaction and imaginative play, and unusual ritualistic behaviors  and interests.  There may be intellectual or cognitive difficulties as well.

– Within the Autism diagnosis there exists two variations that may or may not be used in the evaluation setting but are becoming more commonplace in research and literature.  Some people are labeled as having “regressive autism” in that their developmental milestones were met in a typical fashion and that the signs of autism became evident later in a child’s life (often between the 2nd and 3rd birthdays).  “Classic autism” is used to describe those that were determined to be autistic or developmentally delayed right from the earliest age or even at birth.

What are the signs?  When should I be worried?

Many children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life but then suddenly become withdrawn, aggressive or loose language skills they’ve already acquired. Though each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, these characteristics are common signs of the disorder:  No child will have all of the symptoms nor will any two children display exactly the same set of symptoms – thus the idea of autism being a “spectrum”.

A person with an ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

The above information has been taken from the  CDC (Center for Disease Control) at www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.

Getting a diagnosis….

If you suspect that your child (or a child that is under your care) may have some developmental issues it is important that you seek answers as early as possible.  One of the few things that can be documented as fact in the Autism community is that the best prognosis occurs with early and intensive intervention.

☞ STEP 1 – Talk with your child’s pediatrician.  When ever you notice something unusual with your child write it down and the next time you take the child in for a visit review the list of concerns with the pediatrician.  Be specific and include videos if you have them.

☞ STEP 2 – If your pediatrician is unsure or is unable to alleviate your concerns than ask for a referral to a specialist. In our resource guide we have listed some names of local or near-local specialists that may be in a better position to answer your questions.  The three main types of specialists that can provide a diagnosis for your child are:

◆ Developmental Pediatrician – these are medical doctors who have received additional training in childhood development and children with special needs.

◆Neurologist – A physician who has been trained in the workings of the brain, nerves and spinal cord.

◆Psychologists or Psychiatrists – physicians who are trained in the working of the mind.  Psychiatrists are also medical doctors which means that they can also prescribe medication and order medical tests (such as CAT scans, blood work, immunology work-ups,etc)

Special note ~ to date there are no medical tests that can diagnose Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  The diagnosis is generally made by a multidisciplinary team consisting of all or some of these professionals: medical doctor, psychiatrist, physical or occupational therapist, speech therapist , a teacher certified in special education.

click here to go to resource guide for listings of local specialists