What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to communicate or engage in social interactions. Many of these children or adults also tend to display repetitive behaviors or a restrictive range of interests. The challenges, skill deficits, and severity of symptoms may vastly vary between individuals associated with ASD.

Autism is a complex, lifelong, neurological condition. However, with an early diagnosis and supportive, evidence-based therapies and interventions, many children go on to live productive, independent and fulfilling lives. Here is a closer look at the symptoms, signs, causes, and treatments for ASD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 54 children may have Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD may be about 4 times more common among boys than girls. Usually, ASD is first diagnosed in children around the age of 2 or 3. However, some children with autism may show no signs or symptoms throughout their toddler days.

What are the Typical Signs or Symptoms of ASD?

No two children with autism will ever appear or behave in the exact same manner. The symptoms not only range from mild to severe, but also tend to change over time. You can categorize the typical ASD characteristics into two main areas:

Issues with Communication or Social Interaction: This may include:

  • Difficulties in grasping speech or conducting day-to-day conversations

  • Persistent challenges in recognizing or responding to non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions or eye contact

  • Absence or reduced sharing of emotions or interests

  • Trouble in understanding, developing, or maintaining relationships

Repetitive or Restrictive Patterns of Interests or Behaviors: While there cannot be an exhaustive list of such patterns, here are a few indicative ones:

  • Having a pressing need for predictable routines or structures

  • Playing with toys in an unusual manner. For example, a compulsive need to toss, spin, stack, or line up the toys, instead of handling them in the more conventional way.

  • Exhibiting intense interest in activities that may be usually uncommon in a particular age group

  • Repetitive actions, such as toe-walking, hand-flapping, twirling, rocking, or other such actions

  • Experiencing different sensory aspects in an extreme or unique way. For example, excessive smelling or touching of objects, unique tolerance or intolerance to sensations, pain, or noise, or fascination with visual stimulants, such as movements or light.

Children with ASD may also be at greater risk of developing other medical issues, such as seizures, mental illnesses, sleep problems, and more.

What Causes ASD?

While scientists have been aware of Autism as a condition for several decades, the cause of ASD is unknown. The working theory is that there may be several factors contributing to Autism, including environmental and genealogical factors. However, there is sufficient research to indicate that Autism does not come about due to bad parenting or because of any vaccines.

How is ASD Diagnosed?

There is no medical test for Autism. Diagnosis may require a multi-pronged approach, including talking to the child, parents, teachers and other caregivers. Here are some of the steps involved:

  • Observation of Behaviors: Clinicians look for anything that the child is doing too much or too little of, especially in terms of the above-mentioned signs.

  • Diagnostic Tools: Well-known tools, such as Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS) and Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS-2) help in determining the severity or intensity of ASD.

  • Reference Manuals: The standardized criteria published in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) serves as a useful tool while diagnosing ASD. Since every individual may have varying challenges, such manuals can only provide a point of reference and not an absolute diagnosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children for developmental disorders at well-child preventive visits before they turn three years old.

What is the Treatment for ASD?

There is no medical treatment for Autism. However, with a powerful, evidence-based therapy, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), it is possible to reduce the symptoms and improve quality of life of children with ASD, as well as their families. In fact, ABA therapy related research shows that Early Intensive Behavioral Interventions (EIBI) can help children with ASD catch up to their peers and even overcome their Autism, eventually. Most studies conducted over the last four decades indicate that for individuals with Autism, early interventions and high intensity therapy offer the best outcomes.

What is ABA therapy?

ABA is a highly effective, proven, and customizable therapy tool for encouraging positive behaviors and reducing negative or repetitive behaviors among individuals with ASD.

A certified ABA therapist will:

  • Closely observe the child or adult to collect and analyze baseline information on behavior patterns, reinforcements, and triggers

  • Break down the good behaviors into smaller sections, and design positive reinforcement techniques to reward each correct action or behavior

  • Create a modified learning environment that empowers the ASD individual in identifying and restricting interfering behaviors

  • Gradually scale back the rewards, once the desirable or socially functional behaviors become a habit for the ASD individual

Here are some of the key benefits of ABA therapy:

  • Developing the Individual’s Social Skills: ABA therapy focuses on developing social, verbal, motor, and reasoning skills in individuals with ASD. With the right interventions, ABA can help kids or adults in conducting successful social interactions and forging connections, even if they are higher functioning or non-verbal.

  • Promoting Independence: Besides curbing problematic behaviors, ABA therapy helps in developing and nurturing independent living skills among individuals with Autism. This includes grooming, getting dressed, toileting, sleeping through the night, going outdoors without assistance, and various other life skills that the individual finds challenging.

  • Supporting Families and Caregivers: ABA therapy can offer solid support for the parents, siblings, teachers, and caregivers of individuals with Autism. It helps in getting a better understanding about the ASD individual’s specific conditions. Additionally, ABA also equips the families and caregivers with skills and interventions that they can integrate into activities beyond the formal ABA therapy sessions.

At Autism and Behavior Spectrum (AB Spectrum), we are committed to building a supportive and enriching environment that helps individuals with ASD, and their families, thrive. As the world’s first Reggio Emilia ABA therapy center, we believe in the “Learning through play” approach and focus on Natural Environment Training (NET).

Depending on the needs and preferences of the individuals and their families, we deliver clinic-based ABA therapy, in-home ABA therapy, or a hybrid approach through a team of qualified and experienced ABA therapists. Our highly trained professionals customize and structure the ABA interventions for every child or adult for:

  • Developing social and cognitive skills

  • Improving emotional maturity and reducing problematic behaviors

  • Nurturing life skills, enhancing self-confidence, and promoting independence

Whether you suspect your child is showing signs of Autism or you already have an ASD diagnosis, the certified ABA therapists at AB Spectrum can help.

Looking for a trusted ABA therapy clinic in the St. Louis area of Missouri? Speak to the experts at AB Spectrum at 314.648.2687 or book a no-fee consultation today. We have locations in Chesterfield and St. Charles. You can also take our free online Autism screening test and one of our therapists will be in touch to discuss the results.