Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder marked by difficulties with social communication, social interaction, and restrictive or repetitive behaviors. A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. Signs of ASD usually begin early in childhood and include difficulties with social, emotional, and communication skills. Although the symptoms of ASD can improve, they typically last throughout a person’s life. Most recent estimates suggest that about 1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified with ASD and it is most common in boys.

What are the Symptoms of ASD?

A. Deficits in Social Communication/Interaction

  1. Social-Emotional Reciprocity
    • Difficulties with back-and-forth conversation
    • Reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect
    • Failure to respond to or initiate social interactions
  2. Nonverbal Communicative Behaviors
    • Poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication
    • Abnormalities in eye contact and body language
    • Deficits in understanding and use of gestures
    • Total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication
  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships
    • difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts
    • difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends
    • absence of interest in peers

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech
    • simple motor stereotypies
    • lining up toys or flipping objects
    • echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases
  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior
    • extreme distress at small changes
    • Difficulties with transitions
    • rigid thinking patterns
    • greeting rituals
    • need to take same route or eat same food every day
  3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus
    • strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects
    • excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests
  4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment
    • apparent indifference to pain/temperature
    • adverse response to specific sounds or textures,
    • excessive smelling or touching of objects
    • visual fascination with lights or movement

In order for a child to qualify for a diagnosis of ASD, symptoms in category A and at least 2 symptoms in category B must be present in early development and cause significant impairment in daily life functioning.

This sounds like my child, what can I do?

In order to receive an ASD diagnosis your child must undergo a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. If your child is exhibiting some of these symptoms speak to your health care provider about local autism assessment centers. The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of Miami is a great resource for parents seeking comprehensive ASD evaluations. For more information about UM-CARD please see their website http:/www.umcard.org.

If your child already has an ASD diagnosis there a several evidence based treatment approaches including Applied Behavior Analysis that have been shown to improve functioning for children with ASD.

Our center provides a summer treatment program for preschoolers with high functioning autism (SPARK) targeting behavioral, social-emotional, and academic readiness for kindergarten. Go to SPARK website page for more information about this program.