Understanding Autism in Children

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects roughly 1 in 68 children. Over the years the definition and diagnosis of autism have changed so that today, children with severe or milder cases are being identified and treated. Thanks to innovations in the medical field, treatment for ASD has the potential to help children grow and improve—leading to a more happy and productive life.

ASD, when left untreated, can impact a child’s social skills and very few children completely recover from autism without any intervention. Below is information regarding ASD, symptoms, and treatments.

What is Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Autism spectrum disorder is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined as a single disorder that includes previous separate behavior disorders (autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder).

ASD impacts a child’s developmental level in the areas of social interactions, communication, and behavior. The level of severity and behavior of ASD will vary from child to child—classified on a scale from low functioning to high functioning.

What are the signs of ASD?

Common characteristics of ASD include:

  • Difficulty making eye contact and lacks facial expressions
  • Prefers playing alone and resists closeness
  • Fails to respond to his/her name
  • Doesn’t speak
  • Delayed speech
  • Can’t start or keep a conversation going
  • Doesn’t understand simple questions/directions
  • Doesn’t express emotions/feelings
  • Performs repetitive movements (hand-flapping, rocking, etc.)
  • Uncooperative
  • Oblivious to pain

Possible symptoms are most often observed by parents, pediatricians, and teachers.

What are the treatment options for ASD?

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that all children be screened for ASD at their 18 and 24-month checkups. A formal, comprehensive diagnosis of ASD requires (generally):

  • screening tools to identify persons more likely to have ASD
  • interviews/observational measures
  • assessment of behavior in multiple settings
  • assessment of language/cognitive function
  • assessment of history regarding gestation, birth, family and developmental progress.

After the diagnosis, treatment plans are created to increase functional independence and quality of life. Treatment options include but are not limited to: change in diets (gluten-free), therapist-delivered interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage/music therapy, and medication.

When looking into nonpharmacologic treatment options, applied behavior analysis (ABA) can play a vital role in your child’s autism treatment. ABA is a broad range of therapies that use reinforcement-based methods aimed at promoting desired behaviors and discouraging challenging behaviors. Moreover, ABA may improve core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. When applied as early intensive intervention, ABA may improve cognitive functioning, adaptive behavior, symptom severity, language/communication and social skills. Most health insurance plans will cover ABA if you can provide a professional diagnosis and report. Well Street offers a comprehensive diagnostic support package that meets these requirements.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great nonpharmacologic therapy that may reduce some symptoms of ASD. In fact, technical experts at United States Health Resources and Services Administration recommend that cognitive behavioral therapy start within 60 days of diagnosis, is individualized to strengths and deficits of the patient, incorporates family’s concerns and provides the opportunity for their participation, includes active engagement and therapy that works toward improving social skills. Overall, cognitive behavioral therapy may improve anxiety and symptom severity.

There is no cure for ASD, however, research has shown that starting individual programs as soon as possible can improve outcomes for many children with ASD. Early identification and treatment can make a world of difference for your child and for your family—today and long-term. At Well Street, we believe it is important for your child to receive help from a behavioral health care professional as soon as you suspect your child is suffering from ASD.

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