Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects behavior, communication and social functioning. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have ASD.
As the term “spectrum” suggests, ASD symptoms exist along a continuum. Some people with the disorder are able to succeed in traditional schools, hold jobs and perform functions of daily living with varying levels of support. Others have significant intellectual impairments and will need extensive support and assistance throughout their lives.
Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Failure to engage in typical babbling or pointing in infancy.
- Failure to make eye contact beginning in infancy.
- Failure to respond to one’s own name.
- Loss of previously acquired language or social skills, usually during the second year of life.
- Unusual responses to sensory input.
- Unusual movements such as rocking, twirling or flapping arms.
- Difficulty playing with or interacting with peers.
- Difficulty talking about feelings.
- Difficulty understanding tone of voice, body language and gestures.
- Obsessive interest in a particular topic.
- Difficulty breaking from routine.
Although ASD can be diagnosed as early as 15 to 18 months of age, the average age of diagnosis is about 4.5 years, and some people are not diagnosed until adulthood. That’s unfortunate, as prompt diagnosis is important for early intervention. Research has shown that intensive early intervention can make a big difference in the outcomes for people with ASD.
Various experts can make this diagnosis, including some psychologists, pediatricians and neurologists.
Treatment and support
Several interventions have been developed to treat children with ASD. Some of the more common approaches include:
Applied behavior analysis (ABA)-uses evidence-based teaching techniques to increase helpful behaviors and reduce behaviors that are harmful or interfere with learning. ABA therapy has been shown to improve communication, social and vocational skills.
Developmental individual-difference relationship-based model (DIR)-parents and therapists follow the child’s lead in playing together while also directing the child to engage in increasingly complex interactions.
TEACCH Autism Program– framework promotes engagement in activities, flexibility, independence and self-efficacy through strategies based on the learning strengths and difficulties of people with ASD.
Seeing a psychologist about ASD
When psychologists diagnose ASD or meet with a patient with ASD for the first time, they typically perform a comprehensive evaluation. That evaluation acts as a roadmap that identifies the patient’s strengths and areas of need to help guide treatment.
ASD is a condition that lasts a lifetime. As patients grow, psychologists create new treatment plans to help patients and their families succeed at key transition points such as starting school, entering adolescence or moving into adulthood.
Soorya, L. et. al. (2017). “Diagnosing and Managing Autism Spectrum Disorder”.
American Psychological Association.