Autism spectrum disorder is a phrase that refers to the various types of autism recognized by the medical community. All forms of autism generally make their appearance in youngsters under the age of three. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, and in all its forms causes communication difficulties that make it extremely challenging for the sufferer to relate to other people.
Early diagnosis and intervention will ensure that those suffering from this condition reach their full potential.
Early Signs and Symptoms
In most cases, symptoms and abnormal behavior develop in children under the age of three. However, in some youngsters, the onset of symptoms may take longer. One of the most noticeable of all early symptoms of autism is a toddler not beginning to speak at the appropriate age. In other instances, a youngster may begin to develop language skills and then slowly lose them over time.
In addition to problems with speaking, symptoms include issues with relationships and social interaction often becoming apparent at or before the age of three. For instance, many toddlers with autism will not make eye contact with adults or other children, which is highly abnormal in a well-developed child.
Both nonverbal and verbal communication are at best incoherent and at worst nonexistent in children with any form of autism. In certain instances, a toddler or child may repeat a specific word or phrase over and over despite prompts from parents or others to say a different word. Such children may also have an abnormal lack of interest in playing with others or in the normal activities in which youngsters participate. The child may focus on one specific part of a toy, rather than playing with the whole toy as it was intended. Autistic adults and older children with the disorder may become fascinated with one specific subject or topic to the exclusion of everything else.
Autistic children and adults have difficulty adjusting to changes in familiar surroundings or routines. Many exhibit odd repetitive body movements and behavior, such as shaking of the head, spinning around in a circle or hand flapping, the latter of which is very common. Fearfulness and anxiety, aggressive behavior, difficulty sleeping and temper tantrums are also commonly seen in autistic children and in some autistic adults.
Some autistic individuals also fail to respond to auditory stimulation. An autistic child may be extremely sensitive to certain noises, but appear to not hear others at all. Early on, some autistic children are thought to be deaf, particularly before other symptoms become apparent. However, objective neurological tests have proven that most autistic children hear quite clearly, they simply do not recognize the need to process or respond to the auditory information their brains receive.
Types of Autism
The mildest form of autism is called Asperger’s Syndrome, and it is three times more likely to affect boys than girls. Children suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome often become obsessively interested in one object or topic. They may learn about the subject they most enjoy and discuss it continuously to the exclusion of everything else.
In addition, they may zero in on an object at random, such as a shoe or a plate and focus all their attention on that item, becoming agitated and irritable if it is removed or unavailable. Socially, their skills are dramatically impaired and they are almost always physically uncoordinated and awkward.
Youngsters who meet the more rigid criteria for autism are often diagnosed with “autistic disorder,” and have impairments that are more severe than those seen with Asperger’s syndrome. Language skills and social functioning are usually quite low when compared with those of a normal child and repetitive behaviors are common. Seizures and mental retardation are also associated with autistic disorder.
Autism treatment approaches vary significantly from one child to the next, depending on numerous factors, such as the severity of the disorder. However, treatment almost always involves specific cognitive training that rewards appropriate behavior. This is also referred to as “positive reinforcement therapy.” The goal of such therapy is to teach youngsters social skills and encourage them to communicate as best they can and develop as much as possible as they age.
Depending on the child, treatment may also include physical therapy or speech therapy. Medication may be prescribed to counteract obsessive-compulsive behavior or depression. Children with mild forms of the disorder may learn to care for themselves. At Spectrum Behavioral Services, we will follow your plan to achieve the best outcomes for you and your child.
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