About Autism Spectrum Disorder WHAT IS AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. ASD is a “spectrum disorder.” That means ASD affects each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASD share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms. In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association updated the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) to create one category called Autism Spectrum Disorder. Previous to this revision, there were three types of ASDs. These terms may still be used throughout the education and medical fields. Autistic Disorder (also called “classic” autism) This is what most people think of when hearing the word “autism.” People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability. Asperger’s Syndrome People with Asperger’s syndrome usually have some milder symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However, they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability. Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS; also called “Atypical autism”) People who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all, may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges. SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM Symptoms of ASD must be present in the early development years, but may not manifest until the child is placed in more social environments. They symptoms last throughout a person’s life, although they may improve or change over time. Some children with ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. A PERSON WITH ASD MIGHT: Not respond to their name by 12 months Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months Avoid eye contact and want to be alone Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings Have delayed speech and language skills Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia) Give unrelated answers to questions Get upset by minor changes Have obsessive interests Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel DIAGNOSIS Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. If you suspect that you or your child might have autism, contact our Parent Representatives at (615) 385-2077, ext. 1 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information on obtaining an evaluation in Middle Tennessee. TREATMENT There is currently no cure for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has an ASD or other developmental problem. Even if your child has not been diagnosed with an ASD, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation. CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS We do not know all of the causes of ASD. However, there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including genetic, environmental, or biologic. Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD. Children who have a sibling or parent with ASD are at a higher risk of also having an ASD. ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10% of children with ASD also have been identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders. When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD. We know that the once common belief that poor parenting practices cause ASD is not true. There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before birth. However, concerns about vaccines and infections have led researchers to consider risk factors before and after birth. A small percentage of children who are born prematurely or with low birth weight are at greater risk for having ASD. WHO IS AFFECTED? ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are almost five times more common among boys than among girls. CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD. More people than ever before are being diagnosed with an ASD. It is unclear exactly how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis. However, a true increase in the number of people with ASD cannot be ruled out. We believe the increase in ASD diagnosis is likely due to a combination of these factors. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).