What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as ASD or autism) is a developmental disability that changes the way people communicate, build relationships, and behave. Because autism is a spectrum, some individuals experience more severe symptoms than other people with the disorder.

People one the spectrum live with autism their whole lives. Typically, children demonstrate signs of the disorder by the age of three. While plenty of myths persist about the causes of autism, researchers do not yet know what causes it.

Parents who believe their children have autism should seek professional help without shame. Early intervention is key to making life easier for people with ASD. That’s why it’s so important for all parents of young children to know how to recognize the signs of autism.

Types of Autism

Before autism as a spectrum became widely recognized, mental health professionals categorized autism into four types:

  • Autistic disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

While the behavioral health professionals no longer use these terms, the categories can help families understand the many variations of autism.

Typically, people consider Asperger’s syndrome to be on the most mild end of the spectrum. Symptoms tend to be easier to manage and people on this end of the spectrum can live relatively normal lives with minimal intervention.

Autistic disorder is further toward severe than Asperger’s syndrome People with this disorder may not communicate at all and may never be able to live independently. PDD-NOS has similar symptoms to autistic disorder, but the severity is limited.

Childhood disintegrative disorder is a different type of autism in which children develop typically for a time, then regress. This disorder tends to have the most severe symptoms, which can sometimes include seizures.

Autism Symptoms Across Different Age Ranges

People with ASD develop and change, although they do it in different ways than their peers without the disorder. Symptoms can change through the different stages of life. Children with autism and their parents should be aware of the symptoms of ASD at each stage of life.

Signs of Autism in Babies

In most cases, infants under 18 months of age do not show any signs of autism. However, a few possible red flags in this stage may include:

  • Not pointing at objects by 14 months
  • Not responding to their names by 12 months
  • Not making eye contact or giving other nonverbal communication signals
  • Flapping their hands and rocking their bodies
  • Not play8ing pretend by 18 months

Some babies show some of these signs and never develop autism. That’s why it’s more important to look for the signs of autism in the toddler stage.

Signs of Autism in Toddlers

80 to 90 percent of parents whose children have autism notice some developmental problems by 24 months. However, most children do not get formal diagnoses until about three years. As such, the toddler stage is the most crucial time to look for the signs of ASD.

The list of symptoms of autism in toddlers is lengthy and includes differences in their social abilities, behaviors, and interests. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Outsized reactions to sensory inputs, including particular noises or textures
  • Impaired speech skills
  • No fear or far too much fear
  • Hand flapping and body rocking
  • Tantrums due to minor changes in routine or surrounding
  • Unusual attachment to routines
  • Avoidance of eye contact or social interactions
  • Lack of nonverbal communication, such as waving or smiling
  • Obsession over highly specific interests

Autism Symptoms in Adults

Because autism awareness has only recently gotten mainstream attention, some adults may live with the disorder without realizing it. These individuals may understand that they think differently from others, but not have a name or coping mechanisms for their differences. Getting a diagnosis can help such people get help they want or need.

Adults with ASD may have the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty understanding sarcasm, teasing, and figures of speech
  • Trouble understanding social cues and interactions
  • Hyper- or hypo-sensitive to sensory input
  • Difficulty relating to the experiences of others
  • Insists on having inflexible routines
  • Speaks in a monotone voice, even in emotional situations
  • Easily talks about one or two very niche topics
  • Struggles to regulate emotions, especially in the face of unexpected change
  • Obsesses over obscure subjects that others find difficult to comprehend

Types of Autism Treatment

ASD does not have a cure. However, certain treatments can help individuals and families cope with symptoms. Therapy options depend on the person’s age, symptoms, and place on the spectrum.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is an autism treatment in which behavioral therapists use a system of consequences and rewards to change a patient’s behaviors. While the idea of consequences and rewards may be popular with parents of all kind of kids, ABA therapists develop specific systems that individuals with autism can understand.

It’s important to note that ABA does not work for all patients. Some families feel uncomfortable with the idea. Other patients try it and do not respond to it. As such, our behavioral therapists can also use other tools to help people with autism.

Behavioral Therapy for Autism

Trained therapists can use other behavioral therapies for some patients, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). With this method, counselors and clients identify triggers and find ways to cope with those stressors healthfully. CBT is typically reserved for patients on the milder end of the autism spectrum.

Developmental and Individual Relationships (DIR) therapy is another type of behavioral counseling that professionals use with children on the spectrum. This method, which is also called Floortime, requires parents, children, and therapists to play together using activities that the child likes. Through these interactions, the therapists and parents teach children new skills.

Other tools that therapists use to help people with autism and their support systems include:

  • Social Skills Groups
  • Relationship Development Intervention
  • Autism Education

Speech Therapy for Autism

Many people with ASD have difficulty communicating, which can include trouble speaking. As with autism on the whole, speech issues can range in severity. Some people with autism cannot speak at all. Others have full command of the language, but do not use inflections to emphasize their meanings.

Verbal Behavioral Therapy (VBT) can help some people with speech impairments. In successful cases, children who were once nonverbal start to communicate their needs with full sentences.

Play Therapy for Children with Autism

Play is one of the way all children express their feelings, including kids with ASD. Play can be especially important to children on the autism spectrum because other forms of communication can be difficult for them. Therapists use this love of playing to encourage health behaviors. Play therapy can include:

  • Floortime
  • Integrated play groups
  • Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER)

Professionals typically use play therapy in conjunction with other treatments. If you or someone you love shows signs of ASD, contact us today. Our trained behavioral therapists can help you find a treatment plan that works for your family.