Autism Awareness Month: Understanding Autism

By: Lindsey Esker, MA, CCC-SLP, Manager, Rehabilitation

April is Autism Awareness Month and it’s a great time to work to better understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and appreciate and accept those who are “on the spectrum”. The more we know, the better we can support individuals with ASD and their families and celebrate their unique talents and gifts.Autism Awareness Month is April

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Autism is caused by differences in the brain and while some individuals with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition, other causes are not yet known. Scientists believe there are multiple causes of ASD that act together to change the most common ways people develop.

You often cannot tell if a person has ASD just by looking at them. There is often nothing about how they look that sets them apart from other people. However, they may behave, interact, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.

The abilities of people with ASD can vary significantly. For example, some individuals with ASD may have advanced conversation skills whereas others may be nonverbal. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives while others can work and live with little to no support.

ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a person’s life, but symptoms may improve over time. Some children show signs of ASD withing the first 12 months of life where others may not show signs until around 24 months. Sometimes, children with ASD might gain new skills and might meet developmental milestones until around 18-21 months when they stop gaining new skills or lose skills they once had.

When to seek an Autism assessment

Signs and symptoms of ASD include a wide range of issues with social communication and interaction, restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests, and more. It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms but for those with ASD, these characteristics can make life challenging

Examples of social communication and social interaction characteristics related to ASD can include:

  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact
  • Does not respond to name
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by
  • Uses few or no gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
  • Does not share interests with others (e.g., showing you an object that they like)
  • Does not notice when others are hurt or sad
  • Shows little interest in peers
  • Has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about own feelings

Examples of restricted or repetitive interests and behaviors related to ASD can include:

  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
  • Repeats words or phrases
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Is focused on parts of objects (e.g., wheels on a toy car)
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Must follow certain routines
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Many people with ASD have other characteristics including:

  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed movement skills
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Anxiety, stress, or excessive worry
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected

The signs and symptoms of ASD can be identified by early surveillance and screening. Surveillance or developmental monitoring is an active on-going process of watching a child grow and encouraging conversations between parents and providers about a child’s skills and abilities. Your child’s provider will look at whether your child is meeting typical developmental milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving.

At your child’s regular well-child visits, you may be asked to fill out a checklist or questionnaire specifically designed to identify problems that need further evaluation. These are typically at the 9-, 18-, and 24-month visits. Autism specific screenings usually occur at the 18- and 24-month visits. Additionally, if you have any concerns about your child or if they exhibit any of the above signs of ASD you can always talk to your doctor and they can recommend screenings if necessary.

Diagnostic and Treatment Options at Fisher-Titus

If your child’s developmental monitoring or screenings identifies an area of concern, you may be referred for specialized assessments with a psychologist, neurologist, developmental pediatrician, etc. . At Fisher-Titus, we provide autism diagnostic assessments utilizing the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 2nd -edition (ADOS-2). This is the gold standard assessment for ASD. If you or your child’s physician would like an autism diagnostic assessment, you can contact our pediatric therapy department at 419-660-2700.