Autism Spectrum Disorders

A disorder that is not much understood but still very much common in the many developed countries is autism. An autism spectrum disorder is characterized by:

  • Continuous deficits in social communication and social interaction
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities
  • Symptoms present in early development (first 2 years of life)
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social and occupational areas of current functioning.

These spectrum of disorders correlate to a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability. Causes include genetic factors and environmental factors, but nothing has been found as the sole cause. The earliest signs and symptoms relate to social impairment, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Social impairment:

  • Little eye contact
  • Do not look and listen to people in their environment or fail to respond to other people
  • Do not seek to share their emotions, toys, or activities
  • Share their thoughts by pointing
  • Have a slow response
  • Respond harshly with anger, distress or affection.

Communication impairments include:

  • Fail or are slow to respond to their name or verbal attempts to gain their attention
  • Fail or are slow to develop gestures
    • Pointing
    • Showing
  • First year of life they will coo and babble and then stop
  • Delayed language development
  • Communicate via pictures or their own form of sign language
  • Speak in single words
  • Repeat phrases
  • Repeat what they hear, also known as echolalia
  • Words they use are odd, out of place, or have their own special meaning.

Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors may be extreme or noticeable or mild or discreet. Children with ASD have very concentrated interests; they are inflexible and are extreme. They are easily upset when things do not go their way or things happen out of order.

Confirmative diagnosis is a two-stage process. In the first stage there is general developmental screening during a routine well-child exam by a pediatrician. Second stage involves a thorough, in detail, evaluation by a team of doctors or health care professionals in a wide range of specialties. Screening is usually done between one and a half years and two years of age, these tests may include:

  • Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (CHAT)
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Two-Year-Olds (STAT)
  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire (ASSQ)
  • Australian Scale for Asperger’s Syndrome (ASAS)
  • & Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST).

After these exams, a professional will do an in-depth, comprehensive exam involving:

  • a child’s sensory problems,
  • sleep problems, and
  • intellectual disability rates.

Moreover, a physician will test the child for a

  • seizure disorder,
  • Fragile X syndrome,
  • tuberous sclerosis,
  • GI distress,
  • mental disorders, or
  • related disorders, such as Rett syndrome.

Goal of treatment is to catch the disorders early to help the child as much as possible. Early intervention includes:

  • Start treatment as soon as a child has been diagnosed
  • Provide focused and challenging learning activities
  • Placing the child in smaller classroom settings
  • Special training for parents and family
  • Boosting children to participate in regular activities
  • Measuring and recording each child’s progress and adjusting the intervention program as need be per child
  • Provide high degree of structure, routine, and visual cues
  • Setting a curriculum that the child follows routinely:
    • Language and communication
    • Social skills
    • Daily living skills
    • Research-based methods
    • Cognitive skills
    • School-readiness skills.

Those who reside in Denver should visit the Denver Holistic Center for more information to help educate themselves or family or friends on these disorders in case it is needed. There are numerous intervention methods, of which many are made specifically for an individual child’s needs. Guardians, caretakers and parents should take advantage of these models as well as medications (i.e. antipsychotic, antidepressant, stimulant medications).