The neuro-psychological condition that was once called “autism” is now known as “autism spectrum disorder.” The name of the condition was changed to better include the broad range of symptoms that people with the disorder may exhibit. People with ASD show a number of distinct problems that may prevent them from participating in common conversations and activities.
Classifications of Autism Spectrum Disorder
ASD can vary in the severity of its symptoms. The National Institutes of Health recognizes a number of designations of autism spectrum disorder.
- Autistic disorder – the classic form of autism.
- Asberger’s disorder – a form of high functioning autism.
- Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified – often called atypical autism.
- Rhett’s disorder – autism with anatomical and motor degeneration.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder – a form in which fairly normal development is followed by progressive disintegration of mental and motor capability.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Though ASD can demonstrate in different ways in different children, a few common characteristics aid in diagnosis.
- The children have varying problems with communication.
- The children have significant social impairment that prevents them from fitting in with peers.
- The children exhibit repetitive and stereotypical behaviors.
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
In order to diagnose children who might have ASD, the primary care physician must first do a basic developmental screening to see if problems exist. If some problems are evident, the child must then be seen by a team of physicians and other specialists, such as psychologists and speech therapists, to determine the severity of the deficits. The specialists may find problems with hearing, sensory under- or over-reaction, speaking, understanding what is said, sleep problems or cognitive issues.
One in four children with ASD may also have seizure disorders. Many children with ASD may have gastrointestinal problems; such as frequent upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux or stomach pain. Children with ASD may also have other mental issues, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder or depression. Finding ways to manage these concurrent conditions can often allow the children more ability to work on the ASD problems as well.
Treating Autism Disorders
Early treatment can have a significant impact on improving the abilities and coping mechanisms of children with autism spectrum disorder. Treatment during the toddler years and pre-school years is recommended. The type of treatment program is generally designed for the specific needs of each child because ASD presents different symptoms and degrees of severity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a number of methods for early intervention:
- An immediate start of treatment as soon as ASD is diagnosed.
- Small classes so that the children can have individual time with the therapist.
- Training for parents and the family should also be provided.
- Challenging activities that encourage learning should be provided for at least 25 hours each week throughout the year.
- Activities should provide specific learning goals.
- Carefully recorded progress.
- Clearly defined boundaries and routines to limit distractions.
- The introduction of new settings and situations to allow practice of coping techniques.
- Focus on social skills, communication skills, daily living skills and cognitive exercises.
- Making the overall goal readiness for school skills such as letters and numbers.
Author Nolan Cooper is a freelance writer. His family has dealt with autism through his brother and son. He is a large supporter of MukiBaum Accessibility Foundation.