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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder (a "brain" disease) characterized by the presence of persistent (ongoing) communication and social issues. It is a developmental disorder, which begins in early childhood and continues throughout life. Autism spectrum disorder affects most every aspect of life along the way. Cognitive (thinking and language) and social skills are typically developmentally delayed compared to their peers without the disorder. However, their motor (movement) skills develop in a more typical way.

Specific social interaction, communication and behavioral problems must be present before the diagnosis can be made. Though all people with autism show the same overall pattern of impairments, the severity of these issues will vary from case to case. Some people show mild impairments and others have more severe issues.

From a very early age, children with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate difficulties in interacting with other people...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder (a "brain" disease) characterized by the presence of persistent (ongoing) communication and social issues.
  • From a very early age, children with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate difficulties in interacting with other people. They also have trouble with processing social and non-verbal forms of communication, such as eye contact and facial expression.
  • People on the autism spectrum also tend to demonstrate odd or socially inappropriate behaviors.
  • The communication symptoms of autism spectrum disorder usually become apparent between eighteen and twenty-four months of age. They can become noticeable during the first twelve months if developmental symptoms are severe. The behavioral symptoms usually first appear in early childhood.
  • Once established, autism spectrum disorder symptoms continue into adulthood. The symptoms range in severity (across people) from relatively mild to severe and crippling.
  • Though intervention cannot reverse the course of autism, it can result in symptom improvement and a greater ability for independence.

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What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autistic symptoms cluster into two groups: social communication/social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.
  • Communication issues include difficulty in social and emotional interactions with others, trouble using nonverbal communication skills, and difficulty developing, maintaining and understanding relationships with others.
  • People with autism spectrum disorder have a tendency towards isolation, difficulty making eye contact, and an inability to develop appropriate peer relationships.
  • Patterns of behavioral symptoms in autism spectrum disorder typically include stereotyped or repetitive body movements, insistence on a set routine that cannot be changed, highly restrictive interests that are strongly focused on, and either a lot of interest or no interest in sensory aspects of their surrounding environment.
  • Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have other mental health conditions or challenges that they face.

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How is Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed?

  • In the past, there were several pervasive development disorders that could be diagnosed including Autism, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS).
  • With the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM; currently in its 5th edition), there were extensive changes made to the diagnosis criteria and categories. Rather than multiple disorders, there is now a single condition called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • To be diagnosed with this condition, there must be:
    • A. Persistent/ongoing problems in social communication and social interaction across multiple settings as shown by the following: 1) Deficits in Social/Emotional Connections 2) Deficits in nonverbal communication behaviors used for social interaction 3) Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships.
    • B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as shown by at least two of the following: 1) Stereotyped or Repetitive Motor Movements, Use of Objects, or Speech 2) Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized pattern of verbal and nonverbal behavior; 3) Highly restricted, fixed interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; 4) Hyper- or hypo- reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.
    • C. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder must be present in the early developmental period. However, they may not become fully displayed until social demands exceed the person's limited capabilities, or they may be masked by learned strategies later in life.
    • D. These symptoms cause a great deal of stress in the person's life and problems handling school, work, relationships, and other commitments.
    • E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disabilities or global developmental delay.

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How is Autism Spectrum Disorder treated?

  • There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder.
  • It is a lifelong condition that can only be treated and managed with appropriate intervention.
  • It is crucial to intervene as early as possible because the condition can interfere with normal language development. Without therapeutic assistance, children with autism spectrum disorder may not learn language properly or at all.
  • A wide variety of interventions have been developed for children with autism or PDD diagnoses. A few of these include:
  • Selected approaches address each child's specific needs as determined by educators and clinicians whose findings are formalized as an individualized treatment plan.
  • Each child's treatment plan outlines that child's strengths and needs and also lists long-term and short-term goals for the child to reach.
  • The treatment plan also outlines specific interventions that are to be used to help the child meet these goals.

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How can families cope with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis?

  • Raising a child who has been diagnosed with autism or a related pervasive developmental disorder is a daunting and exhausting task.
  • There are many appointments to keep with some families coordinating between 20 and 40 hours of therapy each week.
  • They are visited by therapists, behavior specialists, case managers and support staff.
  • They deal with their children's isolation, anxiety and tantrums, as well as their own often troubling emotional reactions.
  • In short, families need support to help them cope.
  • Respite services help families caring for children with autism to have a break from caregiving, usually for just long enough so that caregivers can catch their breath.
  • Support groups are mutual self-help groups, run either by peers (other parents of autistic children), or by professionals working in the autism or PDD field.
  • Wraparound is a temporary, physician prescribed service that brings therapy directly to needy families and is used to help children with autism work towards independence.

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What is adulthood like for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • Autism spectrum disorder is a life-long, chronic disorder that can significantly impact affected people's social and cognitive development.  As a result, adult functioning is frequently compromised.
  • Some adults with ASD learn to function well in society. They can earn degrees and maintain gainful employment.
  • Others never develop the communication and self-help skills necessary to live independently.
  • When children with ASD reach the age of fourteen, their caregivers and teachers create a transition planning review in collaboration with the school district. The transition planning review covers issues like education and training as well as career planning
  • Living arrangements and income are some of the major issues facing adults with autism spectrum disorder. While some can manage independently, others must be supervised around the clock to insure their safety.
  • Even if an adult with ASD can maintain a job and can groom himself independently, he may not be able to deal with everyday situations requiring good social skills like meeting new people, asking appropriate questions or maintaining interpersonal relationships.
  • The ideal jobs for adults with autism spectrum disorder are usually quite structured in nature and make a virtue of their strengths and interests. Many high-functioning adults with ASD find gainful employment in computer-related fields, some like the repetition of assembly line work, and others prefer working with animals.
  • Many adults with autism are able to function quite well in group homes that provided assisted living support, while others live with family members throughout their lives.

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News Articles

  • Number of Autism Genes Now Tops 100

    The number of genes known to be associated with autism now stands at 102, researchers report. More...

  • What You Need to Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder

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  • Research Links Long-Banned Insecticide DDT to Autism

    High levels of exposure to the insecticide DDT in women seems to more than double the risk of autism in their children, new research suggests. More...

  • No Link Between Tdap Vaccine, Autism: Study

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    • Brain Scans Yield More Clues to Autism

      Children with autism show abnormalities in a deep brain circuit that typically makes socializing enjoyable, a new study finds. More...

    • Researchers Probe Part of Brain Where Autism Might Begin

      The underpinnings of autism may lie in an unexpected part of the brain, a small study suggests. More...

    • Many Young People With Autism Can Become Safe Drivers: Study

      Letting any teen behind the wheel of a car is nerve-wracking for parents, but if your teen has autism, you may wonder if driving is even possible. More...

    • Allergies More Common in Kids With Autism

      Children with autism are more likely to also have a food, respiratory or skin allergy, new research suggests. More...

    • Baby Teeth Give Clues to Origins and Detection of Autism

      A close examination of baby teeth is giving new insight into the roots of autism -- and ways to spot it early. More...

    • Screening May Miss Signs of Autism, Especially in Girls: Study

      An important checklist used to screen for autism can miss subtle clues in some children, delaying their eventual diagnosis. More...

    • Much International Consensus Regarding Employment in Autism

      There is international consensus as to the importance of work experience and vocational training for helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder obtain employment, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research, held from May 9 to 12 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. More...

    • What Helps Adults With Autism Get and Keep a Job?

      Adults with autism face many challenges, and one of the biggest is finding and keeping a job. More...

    • Meet Nao, the Robot That Helps Treat Kids With Autism

      It may seem counterintuitive, but a robot might help kids with autism interact better with humans. More...

    • Prevalence of ASD Estimated at 16.8 per 1,000 for 8-Year-Olds

      The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder was estimated at 16.8 per 1,000 children aged 8 years in 2014, according to research published online April 27 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. More...

    • More U.S. Kids Being Diagnosed With Autism

      Autism rates continue to climb in the United States. More...

    • Health Tip: Recognize Early Signs of Autism

      Autism may be detected at an early age by paying attention to your baby's social and language skills, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. More...

    • ADHD Frequently Co-Occurs With Autism Spectrum Disorder

      Co-occurrence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is common in children with autism spectrum disorder, and children with both conditions have a higher risk of anxiety and mood disorders, according to a study published in the April issue of Pediatrics. More...

    • Brain Cell Development Differs in Those With Autism: Study

      Neurons in a brain area involved with social and emotional behavior normally increase as children become adults, but this does not occur in people with autism, new research contends. More...

    • Children With ASD, Younger Siblings Are Undervaccinated

      Compared with the general population, children with autism spectrum disorder and their younger siblings are undervaccinated, according to a study published online March 26 in JAMA Pediatrics. More...

    • MRI Sheds New Light on Brain Networks Tied to Autism

      New research suggests that a special MRI technique can spot abnormal connections in the brains of preschoolers with autism. More...

    • Amygdala Neurons Reduced in Adulthood With Autism

      In neurotypical development, there is an increase in the number of mature neurons in the basal and accessory basal nuclei, whereas an initial excess of amygdala neurons is seen during childhood in autism spectrum disorder, followed by a reduction in adulthood, according to a study published online March 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More...

    • Anti-Vaccine Movement Affecting Kids With Autism

      Vaccine skeptics appear to be swaying many parents of children with autism to forgo critical childhood vaccines, a new study suggests. More...

    • Mom's Pre-Pregnancy Waist Size Tied to Autism Risk

      The pre-pregnancy width of a woman's waist -- but not whether or not she is actually obese -- may be tied to autism risk in her children, new research suggests. More...

    • Facebook May Be 'Safe' Social Space for Adults With Autism

      Moderate use of Facebook may help make adults with autism happier, a new study suggests. More...

    • Mean Depth of Ultrasonographic Penetration Greater in Autism

      Children with autism spectrum disorder have a significantly greater mean depth of ultrasonographic penetration, according to a study published online Feb. 12 in JAMA Pediatrics. More...

    • Therapy Helps Those With Autism Navigate Adulthood

      For young people with autism, the leap to adulthood can feel like jumping off a cliff, but researchers may be zeroing in on a safety net. More...

    • Cognitive Enhancement Therapy Beneficial for Adults With Autism

      For adults with autism spectrum disorder, cognitive enhancement therapy is associated with significant differential increases in neurocognitive function relative to enriched supportive therapy and increased likelihood of gaining competitive employment, according to a study published recently in Autism Research. More...

    • Prenatal Vitamins Tied to Lower Autism Risk in Kids, Study Finds

      Taking folic acid and multivitamins during pregnancy could reduce your child's risk of autism, a new study suggests. More...

    • Prevalence of Autism Seems to Be Stabilizing in U.S. Children, Teens

      The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among U.S. children and adolescents was 2.41 percent in 2014 to 2016, according to a research letter published online Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. More...

    • U.S. Autism Rates May Be Stabilizing

      Autism rates are much higher than originally thought but may have stabilized in recent years, a new study suggests. More...

    • Neuroanatomic Abnormalities ID'd in Those at Risk for Autism

      Neuroanatomic abnormalities are seen in cohorts at high risk for autism spectrum disorder, according to a study published in the January issue of Radiology. More...

    • Guideline Changes Have Asperger's Community on Edge

      Change in psychiatric manual will fold it into autism spectrum disorders, leaving many unsure about getting needed services More...

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