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Help With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that can cause problems with thinking, feeling, language and the ability to relate to others. It involves  persistent challenges  in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. The effects of  ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.

ASD is usually first diagnosed in childhood with many of the most-obvious signs presenting around 2-3 years old, but some children with autism develop normally until toddlerhood when they stop acquiring or lose previously gained skills.  According to the CDC, one in 59 children is estimated to have autism.  Autism spectrum disorder is also three to four times more common in boys than in girls, and many girls with ASD exhibit less obvious signs compared to boys. Autism is a lifelong condition. However, many children diagnosed with ASD go on to live independent, productive, and fulfilling lives. The information here focuses primarily on children and adolescents.

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  • Dec 07, 2020
Understanding Stimming:  Repetitive Behaviors with a Purpose

One key symptom of autism spectrum disorders is repetitive behaviors, such as repetitive actions like self-stimulation behavior, or stimming. These behaviors can involve one part of the body, the entire body or an object. While they may seem distractive or disruptive, and while it may not be obvious to others, stimming often serves a purpose for the individual. 

  • Apr 02, 2020
The Power of Pets for Your Well-being

Most pet owners are well aware that pets make our lives better, but they can also help improve our health. Research continues to identify many ways pets help improve our health, including helping maintain mental health and well-being. More than two-thirds of us, about 68% of U.S. households, have a pet.

  • Dec 16, 2019
How Common are Mental Health Disorders Among Children and Teens?

An estimated 15% of children and adolescents will be diagnosed with a mental disorder before age 18, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry last month.

How early can autism be identified? What should parents do if they are concerned their young child may have autism?

Some of the signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be noticed before the age of 1, although a reliable diagnosis by an autism specialist can be made in children as young as 18 months of age. Unfortunately many children end up waiting until after their 4th birthday to be diagnosed with ASD. Delays in seeking an initial assessment and limited access to specialists are just a couple of factors that help to explain this delay. Children who have less severe ASD, or are from minority backgrounds, tend to be diagnosed later than those with severe symptoms. Researchers are developing ways of being able to diagnose autism at even younger ages, such as using eye tracking technologies. The diagnosis of autism is typically based on a clinical examination, which is often supported with other information and tests. There is no single scan or blood test that can independently diagnose autism.

My advice to parents is to trust their gut instinct when they are worried about their child and to seek the advice of their primary care pediatrician. This general assessment may then lead to a referral to a specialist who will perform a more comprehensive evaluation. Parents should also feel empowered to ask for a specialist opinion if they do not feel adequately reassured by a primary care evaluation. More

Can children “grow out” of autism?

A small minority of children show considerable improvement in their ASD symptoms following diagnosis. While ASD has historically been considered a life-long condition, recent research has shown that the outcomes associated with an ASD diagnosis can vary considerably. Some people who were diagnosed with ASD in their youth may improve dramatically, and show little difference to people who have never had the diagnosis.

Whether these individuals “grew out” of autism, or simply responded exceptionally well to the therapeutic interventions, remains up for debate. One should also question if the initial diagnosis of ASD was accurate in these cases. At the moment it is difficult to identify which children will “grow out” of autism, although those who have less severe symptoms and those who obtain early access to the appropriate therapies appear to have better outcomes. More

There is so much information about therapies, treatments and diets for children with autism — how do I know what’s right for my child?

Parents naturally want the best for their child, and many will try different treatments, diets and therapies to help their loved one. It is difficult to cover all of the numerous therapies but here are the key points:

  1. Medical and psychiatric conditions that co-exist with ASD should be identified and treated by a suitably trained physician. These can include immune problems, digestive problems and ADHD.
  2. Natural therapies or treatments are often advertised as being safe and effective. Unfortunately most of these treatments do not have high quality scientific evidence that supports either claim. Some parents have described improvements in their child by using specialized diets. The most important point here is to make sure the child receives enough calories and nutrients regardless of the dietary change.
  3. Parents should be very cautious of treatments that are advertised as being able to “cure” autism; these claims are often of a dubious nature.

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About the Expert:

Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D.
Vice President, Health Strategy and Communications
Brain Power, LLC

Adam’s Story

Adam, a 12-year-old boy, was brought in by his mother for psychiatric evaluation. He had temper tantrums that were causing problems for him at school. She said that school had always been stressful for Adam and that it had become worse after he entered middle school.

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Editor's Choice

JAN 5, 2021

Adjusting to an Autism Diagnosis: The Next Steps
Autism Parenting 

The days following a diagnosis of autism might feel like a grieving period for some parents. They may need to take some time to process what the diagnosis means for their child and family. They may need to grieve for the life they thought their child would have. This may take some time, then, after the dust settles, they must start researching and planning the next steps. Life may be different for their child, but their child can still lead a full and enriching life. It is therefore important to be proactive and early intervention can be critical. 

DEC 29, 2020

Children with autism at increased risk for several mental health conditions
Helio

Caregiver-reported mental health conditions were prevalent among children with autism spectrum disorder in the United States from a young age, according to study results published in Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “Though cumulative evidence from multiple sources suggests an increasing prevalence of [mental health conditions] in general population children, a current population-based estimate of [mental health conditions] in children with ASD is lacking,” Connor M. Kerns, PhD, of the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues wrote.  

 DEC 23, 2020

Scientists Identify New Gene Involved In Autism Spectrum Disorder
Newswise

Forward genetics pinpoints gene linked to ASD involving severe speech impairment and opens door to search for more mutations, future treatments. UT Southwestern scientists have adapted a classic research technique called forward genetics to identify new genes involved in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In a study published this week in eLife, the researchers used this approach in mice to find one such gene called KDM5A.