Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Girl FingerpaintingAutism Spectrum Disorder, often referred to simply as Autism, is a developmental disorder that is complex in nature. It is deemed a spectrum disorder because it can affect different people in different ways and show up in wide range of characteristics that can be anywhere from mild to moderate in nature. Autism Spectrum Disorder is known to show up typically in the early years of childhood and the symptoms almost always carry through to adulthood. Autism Spectrum Disorder mainly affects an individual's social interactions early on, often showing up as an inability to communicate effectively with others. However, there are a range of symptoms and behaviors associated with this disorder including:

  • Lack of eye contact or steady gaze
  • Lacking or underdeveloped motor skills
  • Intense and specific focus on particular interests
  • Poor conversation skills
  • Overly-sensitive to physical contact

Early diagnosis is the key to treating children with autism, which means that parents should be alert to certain red flags that could indicate the presence of Autism Spectrum Disorder as early as the stages of infancy. A few signs to be aware of include:

  1. An inability to say single, comprehensible words by the age of 16 months
  2. No babbling or cooing by the one-year age marker
  3. Lack of using hand gestures, such as waving bye-bye or pointing, by one-year-old
  4. Will not say or use simple two-word phrases by the age of two years

A Closer Look at Autism Diagnosis

Being concerned that a child has autism usually brings a natural reaction from parents to look for help and advice from a lot of different professionals. Doctors, psychologists, experts in the field, educators, and even caretakers often have a hand in the indirect diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. While all of these observations are important, Autism Spectrum Disorder usually relies heavily on the comprehensive assessment of the child's behavior based on reports from several different situations and not one singled-out example will suffice to achieve an appropriate diagnosis. This is because there are other processing issues and disabilities that can first appear to be Autism Spectrum Disorder, when they are actually something else entirely. The act of diagnosing a patient with something similar to Autism Spectrum Disorder is known as differential diagnosis. A medical diagnosis is the most efficient way to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is accomplished with a medical professional who takes various steps to determine the likelihood of the presence of Autism Spectrum Disorder. An assessment will be done of the varying degrees of behavioral symptoms that a child portrays in different areas of their life. But, diagnostic testing will also be performed. The professional will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to guide them in making a specific diagnosis according to specific symptoms listed and the spectrum to which they are present.

Autism Treatment Methods

There is no known cure for autism and no single factor that is known to cause the disorder. However, there are many different approaches to treatment, both in the home setting and in medical or even educational institutions. These approaches may be able to address some of the prevailing challenges that come along with parenting and raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Intervention can involve treatments on a behavioral level and medications, either alone or in conjunction. Intervention may also involve treating other medical conditions that can be associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, such as sleep disorders, seizures, and gastrointestinal distress. By tending to the other medical issues, it may be possible to improve present behavior and attention. Intervention can also be effective to help with disruptive behavior. Because every patient with autism can have a completely different set of symptoms, there is never a single approach that will be effective for each patient that could be classified at varying degrees of the spectrum. Treatment plans are built on an individual basis, designed to cater to the needs, interests, and weaknesses of the patient. Every parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder must know that their personal involvement in treatment is crucial to the success of any treatment path chosen. Following through with therapy sessions at home and working directly with professionals is vital. Young Boy imitating a therapist

Autism Treatment Options

  • Art & Music therapy Art and music therapy is based on the premise that interacting creatively with art and sound can help encourage the development of problem solving skills and decrease issues with irritability. This therapy can also help individuals learn self-expression, which is a key lacking component with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Animal therapy – Animal therapy involves bringing animals in to relate to a patient with autism. This could be in the form of a family pet, but could also be a form of treatment offered at an autism treatment center. The idea is that animals can bring a sense of joy and encourage physical activity and verbal communication.
  • Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT) – This treatment focuses on pivotal aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder instead of targeting individual characteristics. Motivation of self-response, social interaction, and response to multiple cues are examples of aspects that are addressed with PRT.
  • Verbal Behavioral Therapy – Through verbal behavior therapy, patients are taught words as used for simple commands, instead of as a means of communication or their specific meanings. This is done through positive reinforcement of encouraging a patient by using a reward system in which a simple command produces a desirable reaction.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – ABA focuses on the fundamental principles that prove how learning takes place in the mind of someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Through changing environmental factors and social surroundings, ABA works to train an Autism Spectrum Disorder patient to change specific behavioral responses.
  • The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) – ESDM is an early intervention treatment model that is designed to work with children as young as 12-months old. This is a comprehensive program of curriculum and learning material that can be used at various points in a child's development to encourage learning.
  • Medication Management – There are not any known medications that can completely eliminate the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder or even help alleviate the primary symptoms of the disorder. However, there may be medications that can help with specific symptoms. But there are medications that can help some patients with related symptoms, such as irritability or social difficulties. Most of the known medications available are referred to as "off-label", as they are actually designed to treat other conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy - This is actually a primary form of treatment for patients with Sensory Integration Disorder, but works well for some patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Pathways is an Autism Treatment Center for Kids, Teens, and Adults in Utah

The key to helping a child with autism be as functional as possible is to be attentive with intensive behavioral therapy early on in the diagnosis. This often includes a staff of trained professionals working closely with everyone in the child's family. Therapists may come to the child's home to work with the family and the child and deliver valuable services and advice. Parent training under the direct supervision of a licensed therapist is also a key component in autism treatment and involves teaching the parents how to accomplish therapy sessions on their own. If you would like more information about the Autism Spectrum Disorder and treatment, contact us at the Pathways Autism Treatment Center for Kids, Teens, and Adults in Utah.