Autism: What is “The Spectrum?”
By Esperanza Poquiz & Jul DeGeus
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder commonly characterized by having difficulty with communication and forming relationships, alongside having repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests. Symptoms are almost always present before the age of three and one in every 68 children are known to have some form of ASD. This results in more than 200,000 cases of ASD in the United States each year. (1) In honor of World Autism Awareness Month, here is some insight into Autism and ways you can help support research and spread awareness.
Signs and Symptoms
Autism spectrum disorder behaviors are typically present in early childhood. Parents may notice that their child is unresponsive when their name is called, or that there is a delay in learning to talk. Other signs caught in the early stages are a low interest in people, playing alone, and little to no eye contact. (2) Below are a few more signs that may develop:
- Repetitive or unusual behaviors, i.e. rocking, repeating sounds, jumping
- Difficulty in handling sensory stimuli ( touch smell, sight, sounds), may find it painful or confusing
- Responding in an uncommon way when faced with emotions
- Becoming distressed when placed in an over stimulating environment or when their routine has a minor change
- Difficulties engaging in conversations
- Having a tendency in eating non-food items, known as Pica
Behaviors and their severity vary with each person. Recognizing and tracking these signs can help you and your physician determine which treatment is best for you or your loved one.
Screening for ASD
As recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children should have a specific ASD screening done at their 18 and 24 month checkups. If the child has a sibling or other family members with autism, are premature with low birth weight, or show ASD behaviors earlier than 18 months an earlier screening may be needed. A child will be referred to additional evaluation if developmental problems are found during the screening.3 In some cases ASD characteristics may not be noticed until adult hood. Adults with ASD signs should speak with a doctor and ask to be referred for ASD evaluation or to a psychologist or psychiatrist with expertise in ASD.
Treatments and Therapies
Being that there is a vast range of symptoms associated with ASD, there are no standards in treatments. If you or your loved one has ASD, working with a health care professional is essential to develop a health care plan tailored specifically to your needs. If treatment starts early, most children can learn how to relate and communicate better with others. (3) Here are a few common treatments:
- Medication – Taking medication can lead to having fewer problems with aggression, anxiety, depression, irritability, and repetitive behaviors.
- Behavioral Training – This uses positive reinforcement by rewarding appropriate behavior which teaches social skills and helps with communication.
- Therapy – Speech therapy, physical therapy, and psychotherapy can help those with ASD.
How You Can Help
Awareness and education amongst family members and friends can lead to a less stressful environment when it comes to caring for someone with autism. By being trained, family members can learn the routine of the child and learn how to handle certain situations and reactions that the child may go through. Support groups or autism organizations are great ways to connect with people. By joining a support group you are able to trade information and experiences that may help you learn new options. (2)
There are many ways that those who are not directly affected by ASD can support the cause. Multiple organizations, such as Autism Society, Autism Speaks or Autism Cares Foundation, allow you to donate or fundraise for ASD. Search for local events, such as races, concerts, dinners or festivals, that are being held to raise money for ASD. Every little bit helps, whether you attend or volunteer to work these events. Fashionista? Some clothing and jewelry lines donate portions of their sales to ASD research and even have exclusive items created to showcase ASD awareness. If you are a bookworm, there is a long list of books to expand your knowledge of ASD. Any way you choose to help will benefit the spread of ASD awareness.
Caring for someone who has ASD can be hard at times, but by having the proper knowledge, support, and training, life for your loved ones can go a little smoother. If you want to know more about autism and how you/a loved one can get treated, consult your personal physician. If you would like more information or want to connect with others, call the Autism Response Team (ART) at 888-288-4762.
- Autism Speaks. What is Autism. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/section/what-autism
- National Institute of Mental Health. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
- Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/default.htm