Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability resulting in communication, social, and behavioral difficulties. ASD impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, resulting in communication and social interaction issues. Autism spectrum disorder may include limited or repeated types of behavior. However, the term “spectrum” in ASD means a wide range of symptoms and challenges to the disorder.
Specific vital abilities like thinking, learning, and problem-solving of those with ASD can vary. Some patients need a lot of support in their daily lives, while others may not need any.
Autism can have a serious impact on education and employment. In fact, 85% of college-educated people with autism are unemployed. The level of support provided by the national and local authorities, and societal attitudes are crucial factors in determining the quality of life of those with ASD.
During well-child visits, the pediatrician evaluates their behavior and development. If there are any developmental delays or behaviors that signal autism, the pediatrician will provide a referral to a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist. There are screening tests for autism like the M-CHAT that is given to toddlers. However, the diagnosis of autism is missed or delayed in many people, particularly girls and women.
There are no blood or medical tests to diagnose the disorder. The symptoms and signs of ASD can be identified by collecting information and testing. Surveillance and developmental monitoring is an ongoing and active process of watching the growth of a child. Encouraging conversations between family and support providers about the abilities and skills of the child is key.
Autism Spectrum Disorder can sometimes be detected at the age of eighteen months or earlier. When a child is two years of age, a diagnosis by an experienced doctor can be very reliable. Many children, however, don’t receive a final diagnosis till an older age. This delay in intervention can deprive them of the early help they need.
Children with autism are able to interact and communicate well if they are given timely access to psychosocial interventions based on evidence. It is very important to monitor the effects of autism on children’s development to ensure child’s health care. There are resources and advocacy groups for children with ASD.
Signs and symptoms:
ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning that every individual with autism has a separate set of strengths and challenges. Those with autism may struggle with communication, emotional, and social skills. People with ASD also have different ways of paying attention, learning, or reacting to others. Symptoms of autism start during early childhood and can last till the end of life.
Sometimes children show signs of autism spectrum disorder in early childhood. This can include reduced eye contact, indifference to caregivers, or lack of response to their name. Other autism-affected children may develop normally at an early age, but they suddenly become aggressive or withdrawn or lose language skills. These signs and symptoms can be seen by the age of two years.
Some children, with ASD, have difficulty in learning, compared to their neurotypical peers of the same age. Some have typical to high levels of intelligence, and learn quickly, yet have difficulty in communicating and applying their skills in daily life and adjusting to various situations. A few common signs shown by those with ASD are as follows:
Social Communication and Interaction Skills:
Interaction and social communication skills can be challenging for those with autism. They may show the following signs:
- Avoids or does not keep eye contact
- Cannot start a conversation or keep one going, or only starts one to make a request or label an item
- Resists holding and cuddling, and seems to prefer playing alone, living in his/her own world
- Speaks with monotone, or rhythm tone
- Unable to play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by one year of age
- Use few or no gestures by twelve months of age
- Does not wave goodbye
- Shows little interest in children of his age
- Does not play games with turn-taking
- May not respond to questions or directions
- Has difficulty understanding others’ feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Does not show facial expressions like sad, angry, surprised, or happy
Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors or Interests:
A child or adult with ASD may have repetitive patterns or limited activities, interests, or behaviors, including any of these signs:
- Arranges toys or other items in an order and gets upset when the order changes
- Develops certain rituals or routines and shows anger at any change
- Plays with toys the same way daily
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Is focused on parts of objects, like wheels
- Gets upset with minor changes
- Has obsessive interests
- Rocks body, flap hands, or spins self in a circular motion
- Is usually sensitive to light, touch, or sound
- May be indifferent to temperature or pain
- Has unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, sound, look or feel
- Has certain food preferences, such as eating only selected foods and refusing others
The number of children with ASD is on the rise. It can’t be clearly said whether this is due to better diagnosing and reporting or there is a real increase in the number of cases or both. It affects children of all nationalities and races.
- Boys are 4 times more likely to develop ASD than girls
- Families with one child with ASD are more likely to have another child with the disorder.
- Children with other medical conditions have a relatively higher risk of ASD.
- Having certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis
- Experiencing complications at birth
- Being born to older parents
Learn more about warning signs, treatment options, and get advice regarding neurodivergent individuals at Therapheal.
Last reviewed and updated by Caitlin Goodwin on Aug 24, 2022 by Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.