Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disorders that impact a child’s development in a number of ways: limited or unusual language and speech development, limited social skills, and the presence of ritualistic or repetitive behaviors that often limit typical play development. ASDs include autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and for each child the severity of symptoms in each area can range from mild to severe. Many children with autism spectrum disorders also have deficits in other areas, such as emotional regulation, adaptive/daily living skills, and fine motor skills. Many children with autism experience a great deal of frustration in everyday situations and may act out with tantrums, aggression, or self-injury. Autism affects about 1 in 100 children and is typically identified between the ages of 2 ½ and 4.
A child or adolescent with autism may lack the ability to communicate or engage in conversations, be socially isolated or awkward, have difficulty regulating his/her emotions, and engage in non-functional repetitive and ritualistic behaviors. They may also have fine motor delays, eating and sleeping disorders, anxiety and other mental health issues, learning and academic problems, and other medical conditions, such as seizures and gastrointestinal disorders
ASD is typically diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in these disorders. Typically families speak to their pediatrician about their concerns, and then a referral is made to a specialist to make a diagnosis. There are no medical tests to diagnosis ASD, but through interviewing parents/teachers, engaging with and observing the child, and conducting standardized assessments, the diagnosis can be determined.
ASD is best treated with intensive intervention that is started early. With intensive interventions (referred to as ABA or EIBI) many children can reduce their autism symptoms and significantly build their skills. Research has shown that many children with ASD can gain enough skills to function like their peers without the need for extra supports or services. For older children the use of ABA principles can be used to solve many problems and improve the functioning of the child in many ways. For children with Asperger’s syndrome, these strategies are effective as well, and the addition of individual counseling and social skills group interventions for adolescents may result in significant improvements.