What does it mean?

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term for a group of brain disorders that interfere with a child’s ability to communicate and interact in a typical fashion with others, including close family members. The severity of symptoms varies widely in any given child. The condition seems to be more prevalent today but this is due to earlier and better diagnosis. Autism is more common in boys than in girls.

What are the common symptoms?

All autistic children have two things in common: difficulties with how they develop and use language, and differences in social behavior. Common symptoms include delays in the development of language, loss of previously acquired language between 12 and 18 months of age, decrease in eye contact, repetitive behaviors (called “stereotypies”), and abnormal patterns of play and pretending.

Children sometime seem not to hear or understand what is being said to them and often there are other behaviors such as desire for sameness, only liking certain foods or clothes, and temper tantrums. Contrary to popular belief, most autistic children are quite affectionate, but usually only with certain people and on their own terms. Autistic children often use gestural language to communicate but most will not actually point their own finger at what they want.

When do the symptoms present?

Autistic symptoms are evident early on and are usually apparent by 18 months of age. Any parent with concerns about their child’s language should discuss this with their family physician/ pediatrician. Children should clearly use actual words to communicate their wants and needs by 18 months and should use short sentences by the age of 2.

How is the assessment done?

Detailed information about child's development is collected. We discuss how each and every problem unfolded through the years. We want to know how the child and his/her family got to their current states. We inquire into the whole range of frequently co-occurring conditions.

Next, we talk with the parent and/or child. We go over each diagnosis, explaining the etiology of each issue. We discuss further testing (if any). Most importantly, we use these diagnoses to plan remedies for the problem(s). During follow up visits, we work together to carry out and adjust our treatments.

What are the effective treatments for autism ?

The proven therapies for autism are a structured behavioral approach such as applied behavioral analysis and an aggressive speech and language therapy from an early age. Medications can be prescribed for behavioral difficulties by a qualified and trained child psychiatrist.

The first step is a diagnosis and the second step is the carving out of a treatment plan individualized to each child. Many children will also benefit from adjunctive treatments such as occupational therapy, and work with sensory integration dysfunction.

What causes autism?

There is increasing evidence that autism is, in fact, an abnormality of the formation of the brain from early in pregnancy. Genetics play a role in the development of autism as well and that the most popular theories of cause, vaccinations and mercury are being scientifically rejected in the peer reviewed medical literature.

Progress made by a child with autism is related to many factors including intelligence and progression of language. Many children do very well and every family should express concerns about their child if they have them, pursue treatment, and maintain optimism for the ultimate outcome.

How should clients/ parents prepare for the visit?

It is useful for an assessment to happen with someone who knows the child well (preferably parents) and get all the previous reports of any testing for the appointment.