How Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Diagnosed And Treated
Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed based on a childs development and behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.3 It can be detected as early as 18 months, although most children arent diagnosed until after the age of four. The sooner its diagnosed, the better the developmental outcomes.
While theres no cure for ASD, early intervention services available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can dramatically improve a childs development, including walking, talking, and interacting socially.
Treatment for autism spectrum disorder is highly individualized and involves a combination of therapies, services, and support. Although there are no medications that can treat the core symptoms of autism, medication may be used to improve functioning by helping individuals manage issues like seizures, depression, high energy levels, or difficulty focusing.
For the most part, treating ASD involves non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as:
Offers emotional support and resources to people with autism and their families
Other interventions may include intensive parent training programs, social skills groups, and play-based skills groups.
Deficits In Social Communication
Children with autism may hyper-focus on their areas of particular interest, essentially ignoring the interests and concerns of others. In autism, this behavior is the result of deficits in social communication in essence, children with autism may be unaware that others have thoughts and feelings different from their own.
This could be another potential area of misdiagnoses, however, since the behavior itself can very much resemble some of the self-obsession that may be present in narcissistic personality disorder.
Autistic People May Act In A Different Way To Other People
Autistic people may:
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
- get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- take longer to understand information
- do or think the same things over and over
If you think you or your child may be autistic, get advice about the signs of autism.
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Diagnosis In Young Children
Diagnosis in young children is often a two-stage process.
Stage 1: General Developmental Screening During Well-Child Checkups
Every child should receive well-child check-ups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits and specifically for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD or developmental problems. Those at high risk include children who have a family member with ASD, have some ASD behaviors, have older parents, have certain genetic conditions, or who were born at a very low birth weight.
Parents experiences and concerns are very important in the screening process for young children. Sometimes the doctor will ask parents questions about the childs behaviors and combine those answers with information from ASD screening tools, and with his or her observations of the child. Read more about screening instruments on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Children who show developmental problems during this screening process will be referred for a second stage of evaluation.
Stage 2: Additional Evaluation
This second evaluation is with a team of doctors and other health professionals who are experienced in diagnosing ASD.
This team may include:
The evaluation may assess:
- Blood tests
Social Communications And Interactions
Often, infants with an ASD cuddle and make eye contact in atypical ways. Although some affected infants become upset when separated from their parents, they may not turn to parents for security as do other children. Older children often prefer to play by themselves and do not form close personal relationships, particularly outside of the family. When interacting with other children, they may not use eye contact and facial expressions to establish social contact, and they have difficulty interpreting the moods and expressions of others. They may have difficulty knowing how and when to join a conversation and difficulty recognizing inappropriate or hurtful speech. These factors may cause others to view them as odd or eccentric and thus lead to social isolation.
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Why Is Autism Awareness Important
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. April has also become known as Autism Awareness Month in the United States. However, many community advocates have rightly called for the need to increase awareness about ASD year-round, not just during 30 select days.
The Autism Society of America and other advocates have even proposed that April be designated Autism Acceptance Month instead.
Autism acceptance requires empathy and an understanding that ASD is different for everyone.
Certain therapies and approaches can work for some people but not others. Parents and caregivers can also have differing opinions on the best way to advocate for an autistic child.
What Research Is Being Done
The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health , the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world. NINDS and several other NIH Institutes and Centers support research on autism spectrum disorder.
Nearly 20 years ago the NIH formed the Autism Coordinating Committee to enhance the quality, pace, and coordination of efforts at the NIH to find a cure for autism. The NIH/ACC has been instrumental in promoting research to understand and advance ASD. The NIH/ACC also participates in the broader Federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee , composed of representatives from various U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies, the Department of Education, and other governmental organizations, as well as public members, including individuals with ASD and representatives of patient advocacy organizations. One responsibility of the IACC is to develop a strategic plan for ASD research, which guides research programs supported by NIH and other participating organizations.
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What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorders
The exact cause of autism spectrum disorders is unknown at this time, but there appears to be a genetic factor involved in the development of autism-related disorder. Children, whose brother, sister and/or parent has an autism spectrum disorder is at greater risk for one of these disorders. Medical disorders such as fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders have been linked to autism spectrum disorders. Poor parenting skills do not appear to play a role in the development of this condition.
Several students who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome produced a graphic illustration of the biology behind autism spectrum disorders. Check this link to get a better idea of autism spectrum disorders .
Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
People with pervasive development disorder show less or least symptoms of autism as compared to people affected with other forms of autism. They may hardly face difficulty socialising and communicating with someone. If this condition is diagnosed early, changing the diet, taking up social skills classes and occupational therapies can help a person recover faster. Along with Aspergers syndrome, autistic disorders and more, PDD-NOS were also added to the spectrum of autistic disorders.
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How Common Is Autism
An autism diagnosis occurs in one of every sixty-eight births. An early intervention program can be helpful when autism is discovered in younger children. In some cases, with the right treatment program, a child can even outgrow some of the issues associated with autism and begin to display better social and communication skills.
Autism And Your Environment
Sometimes, when a situation is too much to cope with due to sensory input , or being asked to do things that cause stress or distress, an autistic person can become overwhelmed.
Meltdowns and shutdowns
When an autistic person becomes overwhelmed and isnt able to use or benefit from their coping strategies, they might have meltdowns or shutdowns.
Its important, for parents of autistic children in particular, to be aware that a meltdown isnt a tantrum. A tantrum is something that a child can control, and tantrums often happen because a child wants something. A meltdown or shutdown isnt something an autistic person can control, and its caused by being overwhelmed.
During a meltdown, an autistic person might try to make themselves feel less overwhelmed. This can include doing things like:
- trying to get away from people for example by running away or hiding
- trying to get people away from them for example by shouting, screaming, hitting, or acting aggressively
During a shutdown, an autistic person might try to block everything out for example by not responding to anything or anyone around them.
Like everyone else, autistic people can display challenging behaviour if theyre in the wrong environment. While it can be challenging for the people around them, this behaviour is often a result of distress or frustration, particularly if an autistic person has difficulty with communicating.
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Facilitated Communication And Rapid Prompting
Some notable figures such as American animal handling systems designer and author Temple Grandin, American Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic and author Tim Page, and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg are autistic. Thunberg, who in August 2018 started the “School strike for climate” movement, has explained how the “gift” of living with Asperger syndrome helps her “see things from outside the box” when it comes to climate change. In an interview with presenter Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4’s Today, the then-16-year-old activist said that autism helps her see things in “black and white”. She went on to say:
How Mental Illness Is Diagnosed And Treated
Because of the wide range of mental illnesses in the books, along with the fact that many people have one or more co-occurring mental illnesses, diagnosing mental health problems can be challenging. Diagnosis of mental illnesses is made using specific criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. In general, mental illness can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. If more than one mental illness is present, mental health professionals will try to determine whether one led to or influenced another. For example, someone with social anxiety may also experience depression as a result of feeling isolated.
For someone who is on the autism spectrum and also has a mental illness, treating the mental illness in the context of the developmental disorder is essential for success. People with autism should find a mental health provider who is experienced in treating people who are on the spectrum.
Treating mental illness, like treating autism, requires a highly individualized treatment plan. Ideally, treatment will include both medication and therapy, along with lifestyle changes that support good mental health.
Some of the therapies used to treat mental illness include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Helps individuals identify and change dysfunctional thought patterns and develop skills for coping with negative thoughts and emotions
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
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Implications Of Changes In Dsm
Differences in DSM-5 criteria for ASD in comparison to DSM-IV have led to debates regarding the impact on the prevalence of the disorder, as well as the diagnosis, and subsequently clinical practice.
The DSM-5 taxonomy offers more stringent criteria for a diagnosis of ASD. The literature raises concern that individuals who used to get the diagnosis of Aspergers disorder, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified under DSM-IV, are now less likely to meet criteria for the ASD diagnosis by using DSM-5 and therefore will not be eligible for services. Studies also support the notion that young children and females may be at higher risk of being underdiagnosed according to the DSM-5 criteria. These results are of concern as children who are less impaired are more likely to benefit from early intervention, may now be least likely to qualify for such services.
It is however important to note before the publication of DSM-5, there was a growing consensus among clinicians that subcategories of pervasive developmental disorders in DSM IV cannot be reliably diagnosed., Thus, despite the concerns of being a stringent criteria, efforts to conceptualize autism as a broad spectrum of disorders in the DSM-5 had met with less criticism by professionals. Several groups investigating the validity of shifting from a triadic model to a two-factor model have also yielded support for it.,
Mental Illness Vs Developmental Disorder
Mental illnesses are health conditions that involve changes in mood, emotion, thinking, and behaving. They are associated with mental distress and problems with social functioning. Around one in five adults in the United States has some form of mental illness at any given time, according to the American Psychiatric Association.1 The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depression. Mental illness can occur at any age and is treatable with medication, therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy.
One in Five Adults Have a Form of Mental Disorder
Developmental disorders like autism differ from mental illness in several important ways. Developmental disorders generally appear at birth or during childhood and are diagnosed by the age of 18. While mental illness doesnt typically interfere with cognitive abilities, a developmental disorder may impact a persons ability to learn or to understand certain thoughts. Unlike mental illness, which can be successfully treated, developmental disorders are lifelong disabilities.
Autism is 4 Times More Common in Boys Than Girls
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What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives others need less.
A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified , and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.
Diagnosis In Older Children And Adolescents
ASD symptoms in older children and adolescents who attend school are often first recognized by parents and teachers and then evaluated by the schools special education team. The schools team may perform an initial evaluation and then recommend these children visit their primary health care doctor or doctors who specialize in ASD for additional testing.
Parents may talk with these specialists about their childs social difficulties including problems with subtle communication. These subtle communication issues may include problems understanding tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language. Older children and adolescents may have trouble understanding figures of speech, humor, or sarcasm. Parents may also find that their child has trouble forming friendships with peers.
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How Does Autism Affect Kids
Autistic children may not reach the same developmental milestones as their peers, or they may demonstrate the loss of previously developed social or language skills.
For instance, a 2-year-old without autism may show interest in simple games of make-believe. A 4-year-old without autism may enjoy engaging in activities with other children. An autistic child may have trouble interacting with others or dislike it altogether.
Autistic children may also engage in repetitive behaviors, have difficulty sleeping, or compulsively eat nonfood items. They may find it hard to thrive without a structured environment or consistent routine.
If your child is autistic, you may have to work closely with their teachers to ensure they succeed in the classroom.
Many resources are available to help autistic children as well as their loved ones. Local support groups can be found through the national nonprofit the Autism Society of America.
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
In order to determine whether your child has autism spectrum disorder or another developmental condition, clinicians look carefully at the way your child interacts with others, communicates, and behaves. Diagnosis is based on the patterns of behavior that are revealed.
If you are concerned that your child has autism spectrum disorder and developmental screening confirms the risk, ask your family doctor or pediatrician to refer you immediately to an autism specialist or team of specialists for a comprehensive evaluation. Since the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is complicated, it is essential that you meet with experts who have training and experience in this highly specialized area.
The team of specialists involved in diagnosing your child may include:
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How Does Autism Affect The Brain
Autism affects parts of the brain that control emotions, communication, and body movements. By the toddler years, some children with ASDs have unusually large heads and brains â which may be because of problems with brain growth. Abnormal genes, passed down through a family, have been linked to poor functions in some parts of the brain. Researchers hope to find a way to diagnose autism through brain scans.
What Are Some Common Signs Of Asd
Even as infants, children with ASD may seem different, especially when compared to other children their own age. They may become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical babbling with their parents. In other cases, children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.
The severity of ASD can vary greatly and is based on the degree to which social communication, insistence of sameness of activities and surroundings, and repetitive patterns of behavior affect the daily functioning of the individual.
Social impairment and communication difficultiesMany people with ASD find social interactions difficult. The mutual give-and-take nature of typical communication and interaction is often particularly challenging. Children with ASD may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact with other people, and only interact with others to achieve specific goals. Often children with ASD do not understand how to play or engage with other children and may prefer to be alone. People with ASD may find it difficult to understand other peoples feelings or talk about their own feelings.
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