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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 condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior. While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between individuals with autism.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Early signs of this disorder can be noticed by parents/caregivers or pediatricians before a child reaches one year of age. However, symptoms typically become more consistently visible by the time a child is 2 or 3 years old. In some cases, the functional impairment related to autism may be mild and not apparent until the child starts school, after which their deficits may be pronounced when amongst their peers.

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  • Apr 08, 2021
Autism, Anxiety and Sensory Challenges

Anxiety disorders are common in children and adolescents, and sensory reactivity is also common among young children. Both conditions are more common in children with autism than children without autism. Researchers are exploring the connections and relationships between these conditions.

  • 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.

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

Editor's Choice

MAY 1, 2021

Autism and the Social Mind
Scientific American 

Social-cognitive neuroscience offers insights into the early course of brain development and its connections to autism spectrum disorder. For those unfamiliar with the term, social-cognitive neuroscience is the study of the brain systems that are involved in the causes and effects of social behaviors and social interaction. Regardless of their outcomes, though, people on the autism spectrum travel a different path of social-cognitive neurodevelopment that appears to begin in infancy. 

MAY 14 2021

Elon Musk: Is It Asperger's or level 1 ASD?
WebMD

When billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk revealed he has Asperger's syndrome on his recent Saturday Night Live hosting gig, many applauded his transparency and the ability to speak about a condition that's often stigmatized. Others, while still appreciating the honesty, point out that Asperger's is outdated terminology. It is no longer viewed as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Instead, it falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The DSM was last updated in 2013.  

 APR 10, 2021

Autism: 'Changing the narrative to recognize growth'
Medical News Today

New research proposes a novel approach to evaluating autism that focuses on success and growth. A group of psychiatrists wants to focus on proficiency and growth rather than deficits when assessing progress in autistic children.  The research team measured five key domains: communication, socialization, activities of daily living, and emotional health (internalizing and externalizing).  By mid-childhood, approximately 80% of children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experienced growth or proficiency in at least one of the five domains, and 20% were “doing well” in four or more of the domains.