What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder affecting communication and behavior. Autism can be diagnosed at any age, but it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally surface in the first two years of a child’s life. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association utilized to diagnose mental disorders, people with ASD typically have:
- Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
- Limited interests and repetitive behaviors
- Symptoms that negatively impact the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a wide variation in the severity and type of symptoms people exhibit. ASD exists in all racial, ethnic, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, our ASD treatment programs in Fairfield County, CT, and Westchester, NY can improve a patient’s symptoms and ability to function.
Screening for ASD
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be screened for ASD. All parents and caregivers should talk to a doctor about ASD screening and evaluation.
Signs and Symptoms of ASD
People with ASD often have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. See below for some examples of the types of behaviors seen in people diagnosed with ASD. Please note, not all people with ASD will demonstrate all behaviors, but most will show several.
Social communication/interaction behavior signs:
- Tending not to look at or listen to people who are speaking
- Making minimal or inconsistent eye contact
- Failing to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or other verbal attempts to gain attention
- Having difficulties with back and forth communication
- Rarely showing enjoyment in objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others
- Talking at length about a subject without noticing others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
- Displaying facial expressions, gestures, and movements that do not match or complement with what is being said
- Using an abnormal tone of voice sounding flat and robot-like or sing-song
- Having trouble comprehending another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions.
Restrictive/repetitive behaviors signs:
- Displaying a lasting and intense interest in certain topics such as numbers, facts, or details.
- Having overly focused interests such as moving objects or certain parts of objects.
- Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors such as repeating words or phrases.
- Getting upset by slight changes in routine.
- Being more or less sensitive than other people regarding sensory input such as light, temperature, clothing, or noise.
Although people with ASD experience many challenges, they may also have many strengths including:
- Excelling in math, science, art or music
- Being strong visual and auditory learners
- Being able to learn things in specific detail and remember information for extended periods of time.
What causes ASD?
In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new estimate that increased the prevalence of ASD to 1 in 59 children in the United States. This represents a 15% increase from an estimate two years previous of 1 in 68 children.
Unfortunately, we do not definitively know the root cause of autism. However, we do know there is no single cause. Scientists believe both genetic and environmental influences likely play a role in the development of ASD. These influences appear to increase the risk a child will develop autism. But it is important to note that an increased risk is not the same as cause. For example, some gene changes currently associated with autism can also be found in people who don’t have ASD. Similarly, not everyone exposed to an environmental risk factor for ASD will develop the disorder. In fact, most will not.
Genetic risk factors:
- Research suggests ASD tends to run in families. Changes in certain genes increase the risk a child will develop autism. If a parent carries one or more of these genes, it may get passed to a child (even if the parent does not have autism).
- In other instances, the genetic changes spontaneously arise in an early embryo or the sperm and/or egg combining to create the embryo.
- Again, it is important to note the majority of these gene changes do not cause autism by themselves.
Environmental risk factors:
- Advanced parent age (either parent)
- Pregnancy and birth complications (e.g. extreme prematurity, low birthweight, multiple pregnancies)
- Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart