Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the term Dr. Wadelton prefers because it helps people focus on the range or spectrum aspect of autism. Autism Spectrum Disorders are brain-based disorders affecting development and behavior. We use the term "disorder" because we are using a medical model, but the term "difference" fits well, too. The revised DSM-V lists the following criteria for the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):
- Social Communication Impairment (verbal and nonverbal)
- Restricted interests/Repetitive behaviors
Autism Spectrum Disorders Include:
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
- Autistic Disorder (including "high functioning autism")
- Asperger's Disorder (Asperger's Syndrome)
Rett's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Fragile X syndrome are just a few of the neurological and genetic conditions that have overlapping symptoms with ASD. While parents, relatives, teachers, therapists, and medical professionals have important observations to offer, ASD is a complex disorder requiring a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment.
How Prevalent is Autism?
According to 2010 estimates published by the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, , the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder among children aged 8 years old is one in 68.
What Are the Signs or Symptoms of Autism?
Symptoms can be normal at some ages, but not for others. Symptoms can be caused by autism or caused by something else entirely. People with ASD can have co-existing problems such as ADHD, Learning Disability, OCD, Anxiety, or depresson. They can have co-existing sensory issues, sleep disurbance, GI problems, or seizures. Health care providers and schools will often use a questionnaire or screening instrument to gather information about your child’s development or behavior.
- no babbling or pointing by age 1
- no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- no response to hearing their name called
- loss of language or social skills
- poor eye contact
- excessive lining up of toys or objects
- minimal smiling or social responsiveness
- impaired ability to make friends with peers
- impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
- restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
- preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.
Autism Spectrum Disorders are complex disorders. While there are common symptoms shared by those diagnosed with ASD, people with ASD are individuals, no two are alike! The needs and prognosis for each person can be markedly different. That is why it is so important to have a comprehensive assessment conducted by autism experts. The symptoms can range from subtle to severe, rare to frequent.
What Causes Autism?
Scientists do not yet know what causes ASD. The causes may even be different for different subsets of people with ASD. It is most likely that both genetics and environment play a role. What we do know is that parenting practices do not cause ASD.
Do Symptoms of Autism Change Over Time?
In Dr. Wadelton's experience, most of the children she has treated with autism improved with treatment and with age. Some children who started out in early intervention programs even appear to "lose" their autism symptoms, mainstreaming during elementary school, with only the more subtle symptoms of autism remaining. Some may look like shy students, ADHD students, learning disabled students, or even "gifted professor" students.
Some children with ASD follow a different developmental path, making progress in their own way, but not mainstreaming, and requiring more lifelong support. It is fair to say that for anyone diagnosed with ASD there will be successes and challenges. It is important to take one challenge at at time and to stay alert to changing needs across the lifespan as children grow from toddlerhood, to school age, to adolescence, and on to adulthood. Dr. Wadelton has had the pleasure of guiding parents and children with ASD through many years of their lives. Several of her former elementary and middle school patients with ASD are now attending college!
What Are Your Options For Autism Treatment?
Autism treatment is generally geared towards treating the specific symptoms or problems that the person with ASD is experiencing. Alternative treatments aimed at treating the overall person with ASD may include nutritional supplements or special diets aimed at reducing or ameliorating the effects of suspected environmental or gut toxins. Autism treatments may be home based, school based, or clinic based. They may be offerred in group or individual settings. They may be paid for by the school, private insurance, or self-pay.
ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy
ABA therapists use highly structured and intensive training sessions to help children develop specific desired behavioral skills. ABA is also used to help decrease or eliminate the occurrence of undesired behaviors. Dr. Wadelton has over 2000 hours of ABA training, ten times more than the average certified ABA therapist!
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and language therapists work on all aspects of speech and language development from sign language, to producing sounds, words, grammar, and conversational or pragmatic speech. It is important to look for speech and language therapists who are specifically experienced in working with autistic children.
Medications For Autism
Doctors may prescribe medications for treatment of specific autism-related symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, ADHD, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Small doses of antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with anticonvulsant medications.
Other therapies: There are a number of alternative therapies or interventions available. Dr. Wadelton offers the following advise about alternative therapies:
- Do no harm! Make sure that what you do has medical oversight particularly if it involves invasive experimental procedures.
- Don't break the bank! There are no magic cures. Do what makes sense for your whole family future.
- Dietary interventions should be discussed with your M.D. and nutritionist. Children with ASD are frequently picky eaters, prone to failure-to-thrive and nutritional deficiencies.
- Don't overdo it! Too much therapy can wear you and your child out. ASD is a marathon, not a sprint!