Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, expressive and receptive communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviors (rocking, twirling, hand flapping, biting, head banging etc…). Individuals with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn very differently from their same age peers. Levels of intellectual ability vary greatly ranging from severe to average or above average cognitive functioning.
The diagnosis of ASD now includes several disabilities which used to be separately diagnosed (autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome). These disabilities are now all included within ASD and are no longer diagnosed separately.
Early diagnosis and intervention is very important because research has shown that if identified early, a child with ASD can make more progress in their speech and language, and social and communication milestones. Also it helps the family to understand the disorder. Some red flags for autism include no babbling by one year of age, no single words by 16 months of age, and not putting two words together by 2 years of age. Parents report that their child seems to be deaf and that he does not respond to his name at less than 1 year of age.
Children with ASD respond with signs and symptoms in three different areas. They usually have expressive and receptive language delay; they also have significant delays in social interaction and may not show interest in other children, rarely respond to their name being called, and don’t show joint attention (turning to look when prompted). Individuals with ASD don’t draw attention to themself or get their parents to pay attention to something that they are doing. Unusual behaviors are demonstrated such as unusual body movements like spinning and flapping their hands, toe walking, and obsession with a particular inanimate object. Other symptoms include: Loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of toys or objects, little or no smiling or social responsiveness, impaired ability to make friends, impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation, absence or impairment of imaginative and social play, restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus, unusual use of language, echolalia (repeating same word or phrase), preoccupation with certain objects or subjects, inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals, and a unique or odd presentation.
The Centers for Disease Control (2014) estimate that 1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls: 1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls.
Testing and evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder involves a lengthy process during which the parent is interviewed using the ADIR (Autism Diagnostic Interview Revised), and completes the GARS-3 (Gillingham Autism Rating Scale), and the VABS-II (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale). The child is evaluated utilizing the ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), plus intellectual, motor, and early educational instruments. Early evaluation is very important in order to facilitate early developmental services and support. Early intervention can alter the trajectory of Autism Spectrum Disorder.