What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term for a group of neurological conditions that are often first diagnosed in early childhood. It is often noticed by parents before the child turns three when a child fails to reach developmental milestones or seems to regress instead of improving their social communication skills. 

ASD impacts the brain’s ability to process social cues and affects the way that you communicate with others. ASD is considered a spectrum disorder because it does not impact each person in the same way. Some people with ASD have mild symptoms and require little help functioning normally. Others with ASD require constant help and need specialized lifelong care. 

The term Autism Spectrum Disorder is now exclusively used to identify those with varying levels of autism, including those with former diagnoses of Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms and Signs

You may notice a variety of signs in your child that point to ASD. Each individual with ASD can exhibit unique symptoms. Only your doctor can perform the testing necessary to determine if your child has ASD. Some common signs that indicate a possibility of ASD include:

  • Missing developmental milestones
  • Refusing to make eye contact
  • Extreme sensitivity to sounds, smells, touch, taste, texture, or other sensory input
  • Fixated interests, often with a very narrow focus
  • Minimal to no expressive language, or only repeats others during conversation
  • Repeating words or phrases over and over
  • Flapping hands, rotating in circles, or other seemingly uncontrollable and repetitive physical actions
  • Deficits in sustaining a conversation, or only speaking about preoccupations when expressive language is intact
  • Not responding to their name or failing to respond at all when addressed
  • Regression or loss of previously demonstrated social skills or speech
  • Resistance to minor changes in schedules or surroundings
  • Unreasonable attachment to specific objects
  • A lack of interest in playing with or communicating with other children or engaging in solo, ritualistic play even when other children are present
  • Speaking with an unusual tone or rhythm, that could sound robotic or sing-song
  • Failure to point at objects or adjust their gaze to objects that others are pointing at

Autism Spectrum Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

There is no specific cause of autism spectrum disorder, but several factors could make someone more likely to develop it. Possible risk factors for ASD include:

  • A family history of developmental disorders
  • Sex: ASD is four times more common in boys 
  • Having other disorders, including Fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis
  • Being born to older parents
  • Certain drugs that are taken during pregnancy, including valproic acid and thalidomide
  • Pregnancy and birth complications, including premature birth

Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatment and Care

Each individual with ASD will require different degrees of treatment and assistance. Some individuals with ASD may require long-term caregivers, or may benefit from inpatient treatment. Your doctor can help you find the best care team for your needs and design a plan for your child that can help them live a full life. 

Medication: There is no medication that specifically treats ASD, but some medications can be beneficial in helping to control ASD symptoms. 

Therapy: Therapy plays a crucial part in helping individuals with ASD develop coping and communication skills. Applied behavioral analysis, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, sensory integration therapy, and other types of therapy can make a major difference for individuals with ASD. Learn more about therapy and other treatment options available at Sheppard Pratt. 

Education: Staying informed about the latest developments in ASD treatments can help you and your family cope with an ASD diagnosis. Read more about ASD. Children with ASD may require an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or special schooling. Our special education services can help. 

Support: Parents and children with ASD or other mental health conditions need support. See your options for support groups at Sheppard Pratt.