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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has received more visibility in recent years, leading to great support for children and families with conditions on the autism spectrum. While this recognition and support has been very important and beneficial, there is still a great deal of education that can be done to promote the recognition, treatment and support for children with ASD.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorders – also called ASD – is a type of developmental disability that can impact the way a child interacts with others, learns and communicates. The autism spectrum includes a wide variety of distinct conditions, and children diagnosed with ASD may differ greatly from one another. Some children with ASD may need a significant amount of assistance in their daily lives, while others will need very little. Conditions along the autism spectrum include:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

ASD is about four times more common in boys than in girls, and affects children from all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.

What are symptoms of ASD?

Symptoms of ASD may appear early in a child’s life and typically last throughout their lifetime. While you cannot tell someone with ASD by how they appear physically, there are a few signs and symptoms to be aware of, especially when interacting with others in a social setting, such as school:

  • Does not show interest in people or things (for example, if someone indicates something by pointing a finger, they do not look to where the person is indicating)
    • Conversely, some children with ASD may show a great interest in others, but be unable to effectively or appropriately communicate their interest
  • Feels uncomfortable making direct eye contact
  • Avoids close personal contact (such as hugging)
  • Has difficulty adjusting to changes in their environment
  • Has aversions to specific tastes, textures, lights or sounds
  • Has restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities (e.g., needing things in a certain, strict order)

How is ASD treated?

There is no medical test (like a blood test or MRI) to determine if a child has ASD, but there are several ways doctors and other healthcare professionals can diagnose a child. Pediatricians will include screening evaluations at regular well child visits. These evaluations help providers key in on certain symptoms of ASD, like turning to see where a sound came from or avoiding eye contact with the provider.

If a diagnosis of ASD is determined, healthcare providers work closely with the child and their family to develop a treatment plan customized to their needs. There isn’t a cure for ASD, but there are support programs and resources in place to help children with ASD reach their full potential. Early intervention programs are a vital component to this; these services help children with speech therapy, social interaction and other key skills. As the name suggests, early intervention is key: the earlier a child is diagnosed with ASD, the sooner they can have access to these important services.

How is ASD prevented?

While research and education about ASD has greatly increased, there is still a lot the medical community does not know about ASD, including its exact causes. Doctors believe children may be at greater risk of developing ASD if exposed to certain environmental or genetic factors:

  • Family history of ASD
  • Other congenital chromosomal conditions
  • Prenatal exposure to certain chemicals or drugs