What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
In Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD, a patient experiences developmental delays that affect communication, social relationships, and behaviors. As a spectrum disorder, ASD incorporates people with a wide range of symptoms and severity.
People do not outgrow ASD, as it is a chronic condition. They can, however, move past development stumbling blocks and learn coping mechanisms for dealing with symptoms.
The Different Types of Autism
In the past, autism was divided into four types: Asperger’s syndrome, autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegrative disorder. All of these different disorders are now classified under the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What was once called Asperger’s is characterized by less severe symptoms, while Autistic Disorder had more severe symptoms. PDD-NOS fell somewhere in the middle. All of these are now part of a spectrum that does not make such distinctions. Patients are now considered to have symptoms somewhere along the spectrum as opposed to distinct disorders.
Autism Symptoms Across Different Age Ranges
Children as young as two can begin to show signs of ASD. Many have the misguided notion that children somehow stop developing at this age if they have ASD. In fact, these children still progress, grow, and develop, just at different rates and in different ways than their peers. Their symptoms can change over time, as well. Parents need to know what to look for if they have concerns about ASD.
Signs of Autism in Babies
Typically, ASD first presents between 12 and 18 months in babies. Infants can, however, show symptoms earlier, including:
- Not reacting to their name by 1 year
- Avoiding eye contact
- Not engaging in nonverbal communication
- Not engaging in pretend play
- Flapping their hands
- Rocking their bodies
- Not pointing to get objects they want
A child may have some of these symptoms during infancy then go on to develop at a typical rate. True signs of ASD become more apparent when kids are 2 to 3 years old.
Signs of Autism in Toddlers
ASD symptoms in toddlers come in a wide variety, but some common symptoms include:
- Delayed speech
- No speech
- Hand flapping
- Walking on toes
- Rocking the body
- Avoiding eye contact
- Not engaging in play with peers
- Fixating over one thing
- Not using hand gestures to communicate
- Fixation on routine
- Strong emotional response to changes in routine
- Too much or too little fear
- Outsized reactions to sounds, smells or textures
The list of symptoms goes on, and it can vary widely from patient to patient. True diagnosis takes the intervention of a mental health professional who can observe the child and make an assessment.
Autism Symptoms in Adults
Until recently, many adults lived well into adulthood without receiving a diagnosis of ASD. They may have spent much of their lives confused as to why they felt slightly different from everyone else. This is especially prevalent amongst those with so-called “high functioning” autism who are better able to pass as neurotypical.
Adult signs of ASD can include:
- An inability to read social cues
- Difficulty relating to others
- Flat affect even when emotions rise
- Focus on one or two favorite topics alone
- Fixation on esoteric topics that are difficult for others
- Difficulty regulating emotion, especially when change occurs
- Maintaining rigid routines
- Hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to noise, touch, taste, etc.
- An inability to understand figurative language or jokes
There is currently no known cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Patients and their families can learn a wide range of skills and coping mechanisms, however, that make life much easier. Which treatments work best for a patient can depend on age and the severity of their symptoms.
Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, encourages new behaviors in patients by setting up consequences for certain actions and offering rewards for others. ABA does not work for everyone, in which case our specialists can make other recommendations.
Those on the milder end of the spectrum might benefit from CBT. Through this therapy, they can recognize patterns and learn new ways to cope.
Another behavioral therapy that works for many young children with ASD is Floortime, or Developmental and Individual Relationships (DIR) therapy. In these sessions, parents, children, and therapists all spend time playing something the child enjoys with the goal of establishing new patterns of behavior.
Additional behavioral therapies to consider, include:
- Relationship Development Intervention
- Social Skills Groups
- Autism Education
Sometimes those with ASD are nonverbal or else have a very rigid relationship to spoken language or speak in a monotone voice. Patients can work in speech therapy on acquiring speech, learning to interpret figurative language, or learning to mimic more natural affects.