Autism spectrum disorder, simply known as autism, is a neurological and developmental disorder usually identified in children during their first three years of life. Autism is a widely varying disorder. Individuals can differ greatly in their presentation, including strengths, weaknesses, and in impairments to functioning. Behavioral features of autism are marked by deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.
The most common symptoms of autism include:
- Challenges in social communication and social interaction
- Difficulties with back-and-forth conversations
- Lack of initiation of social contact
- Limited nonverbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact
- Difficulty adjusting behavior to different situations
- Difficulty in developing, maintaining, and understanding social relationships, such as friendships with other children
- Restricted or repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities
- Repetitive motor movements, such as rocking and arm flapping
- Repeating sounds or words over and over
- Easily upset with changes to routine activities
- Unusual interest or responses to sounds, smells, textures, and visual features within their environment
Children should be evaluated by a doctor or psychologist who’ll determine the best course of treatment, taking the following into consideration:
- The child’s age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the disorder
- The child’s symptoms
- The child’s tolerance for medications or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disorder
- The preferences of the parents
Specialized therapy—such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA)—is designed to treat autism spectrum disorders. Behavioral therapy is used to teach social skills, communication skills, adaptive (self-help) skills, motor skills, and cognitive (thinking) skills. Behavioral therapy is also used to reduce behaviors that interfere with learning or adaptive functioning, such as aggression and self-injurious behaviors. Individualized treatment planning is important because children with autism have different behavioral needs and presentations. Early intensive intervention, including direct services, parent training and support have been found to lead to functional improvements in some children.
Behavioral health providers provide parent counseling, social skills training, and individual therapy. They also help families identify a child’s needs and participate in treatment programs.
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Talk to your doctor or behavioral health provider if you have any questions about autism.
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