Vol. 14, No. 1 November 2009
Quick Reference for Parents
Autism Spectrum Disorders
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2009), autism spectrum disorders (ASD) cause “severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. These disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, through pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified, and to Asperger’s Syndrome.” These disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior (APA, 2000).
How common is autism?
Two 2009 government studies indicate about 1 in 100 children have autism disorders—higher than a previous U.S. estimate of 1 in 150. Greater awareness, broader definitions and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the increase, federal health officials said (AP, 2009). Children diagnosed and treated at an early age can show significant improvement. However, only 50% of children with autism are diagnosed before kindergarten.
When and how does autism become apparent?
Children with ASD do not follow typical patterns of child development. In some, hints of future problems may be apparent from birth. In most cases, problems in communication and social skills become more noticeable as the child lags behind other children the same age. Between 12 and 36 months old, differences in the way children react to people and other unusual behaviors become apparent. Some parents report the change as being sudden, and that their children start to reject people, act strangely, and lose language and social skills they had previously acquired. In other cases, the child’s developmental progress levels off and differences with other children the same age become more noticeable (NIMH, 2009).
What behaviors do children with autism exhibit?
According to Kyle’s Tree House, an association of Autism Spectrum Support groups, symptoms can include exclusivity or a lack of significant age-appropriate relationships with others, repetitious and self-stimulating behaviors, lack of eye contact, and low attention span. Developmental delays associated with autism can be manifested in a variety of behaviors, including:
- Behavior injurious to oneself or others
- Language difficulties
- Needs in the area of self-help skills such as dressing and toilet training
- Academic challenges
What can I do if I suspect my child has autism?
- Contact your pediatrician for a consultation and referral to a certified mental health clinician who has expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
- Call the school to find out about services available in your district. Talk to the counselors, social workers, and teachers who may be working with the child.
- Join a support organization for autism and become involved with other families facing the same challenges.
- Educate yourself and your family about this disorder.
- Explore all funding sources; the treatment of autism can be expensive.
Adapted from the Adoption Resources of Wisconsin/Foster Care and Adoption Resource Center of Wisconsin, 2008 <www.wifostercareandadoption.org/library/409/AutismSpectrumDisorders.pdf>.
Copyright © 2009 Jordan Institute for Families