What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term used for a group of conditions including Asperger’s syndrome, autism, pervasive development disorder (PDD) and pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified (PDDNOS). Those with ASD often have difficulty with social interaction, imagination, play and communication.
While children with ASD may have similar problems, they are not exactly the same. This is why it is called a spectrum.
Does my child have ASD? Signs and symptoms
Children with ASD often have problems in these areas:
- Social interaction
- Imagination and play
Social Interaction of those on the spectrum
Children with ASD tend to have unusual ways of interacting with others, such as only talking when they need to or actively talk only about their interests. These behaviours are often described as ‘passive’, ‘overly formal and stilted’ and ‘aloof’.
Communication styles of those on the spectrum
Those with ASD often have poor communication skills or focus their communication on objects instead of people. Children with severe ASD tend not to speak. Many children with ASD are proficient with their language skills, but struggle with more social language. Conversation may end up one-sided or they may repeat certain words over and over, which is called echolalia.
Most people with ASD struggle with nonverbal communication such as maintaining eye contact, reading body language and nonverbal cues. Nonverbal cues can include understanding or expressing emotions through facial expressions or tone of voice.
Imagination and play of those on the spectrum
Those with ASD tend to lack creativity and imaginative play. People with ASD may use their senses to interact with toys instead of traditional play. Some children may play by using obsessive or repetitive actions such as lining up toys, while others may copy the children around them.
Children with higher-functioning ASD can become compulsively interested in a certain subject and possibly exclude other activities or interests.
How intellectual ability comes into play in ASD
One of the major factors that affects how someone with ASD behaves and functions is their intellectual ability. Those with ASD can range from being highly intellectual to severely intellectually disabled. Roughly one in four people with ASD have an IQ in or above the normal range, however three out of four people with ASD will have some form of intellectual disability. A person with ASD’s level of ability if often unbalanced with areas of strength and weakness.
Other problems a child on the autism spectrum may have
Children with autism spectrum disorder can have of difficulties such as:
- Having a higher or lower sensitivity to sound, sight, smell or touch
- Emotional or behavioural difficulties
- Restricted eating patterns
- Repetitive movements
- Sleeping difficulties
- Difficulties with planning or organisation
- Attention or learning difficulties
Those with ASD may have other medical conditions like epilepsy, rare disorders including fragile X and tuberous sclerosis, or nutritional deficiencies.
What causes ASD?
Research suggests that ASD may have its roots in genes, however the exact gene that causes the disorder has not been identified. There is continued research with the aim of finding the cause and more treatment options.
How is ASD diagnosed?
It requires the assessment of three independent specialists to diagnose ASD; a psychologist, paediatrician and speech therapist will need to assess your child. Symptoms and signs vary so much between children so there is no simple way to test for ASD.
How is ASD treated?
There are a variety of treatments available according to the needs of individual children and the nature of their impairment/s. These can include:
- Speech therapy
- Behavioural therapy
- Social skills development
- Special education settings
- Early intervention
- Environmental changes
- Occupational therapy
Speech and behavioural therapy treatment
The majority of children with ASD have difficulty with communication and can benefit from seeing a speech therapist. Speech therapy can help improve their social and language skills and aid them in connecting with others. A behavioural therapist or psychologist can help identify triggers and develop ways to avoid and manage these outbursts.
Social skills development of children with living with ASD
A therapist called an applied behavioural analysis (ABA) therapist can work one-on-one to help children with ASD develop ways to help them learn.
Special education settings and early intervention
In some cases it is best for a child with ASD to attend an early intervention program and/or a specialist school. A team of specialists can help develop a support plan for the family and an action plan for the child.
A structured and predictable environment and routine is often preferred by children with ASD. Visual aids such as picture cards can help improve a child’s understanding and communication.
Occupational therapy for children living with ASD
An occupational therapist can help children who have hyper-sensitive touch, hearing or sight.
The most important things to remember about ASD are:
- Children with ASD often have difficulty with delayed language development, impaired imagination and play, social interaction and communication
- Treatments vary between children and families
- Treatments often change over time
- No two people with ASD show the exact same signs and symptoms and these symptoms may change over time
- Those with ASD may have other difficulties
- Symptoms vary so much that there is no test for ASD
- If you have any concerns about your child’s behaviour you should see your family doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist
Support services outside of this clinic
Visit the following websites for more information: