Autism was once considered a rare disorder. Over the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in the number of children who are on the autism spectrum. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over 200, 000 cases diagnosed each year. Girls and boys can have autism, although it’s more commonly diagnosed in boys. Researchers have not determined a cause for autism, but clinicians certainly have become more adept at recognizing the signs.
Autism disorder now includes pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger’s. Previously, those disorders had separate and distinct diagnoses. They are now called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The range and severity of autism can vary greatly. ASD affects–social, emotional, behavior, communicative development. Here are some of the more common signs of autism spectrum disorder:
*difficult to soothe
*may prefer playing alone
*often appear as being shy
*emotionally immature compared to peers.
*not responsive to name being called by 12 months of age
*intolerant of change
*obsessed with routine and order
*overly focused on an object or single topic
*appear insensitive to the feelings or needs of others
*speech might be monotone or robotic like
*display exceptional intelligence
*emotional regulation difficulties
*have eating issues—preferring limited foods, sensitive to the texture of certain foods
*prefer that foods not touch or even be on the same plate.
*hygiene problems-they struggle with understanding socially acceptable hygiene practices
*over reacts or under reacts to situations
*display unpredictable behavior
*poor understanding of social cues–might dominate conversations or avoid interactions.
While any one of these signs aren’t necessarily indicative of autism, two or more should alert parents and indicate the need for further evaluation. It’s good to start with your child’s pediatrician but often times, they will refer you to a mental health professional.
It is not unusual for children with autism to have other disorders. This is called-co-occurring disorders. Most common co-occurring disorders seen with autism are: ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, obsession compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and sometimes, learning disorders.
There is no cure for autism, but various interventions (speech therapy, occupational therapy, group therapy, social skills training), can help to teach these children skills and mitigate negative effects. Again, early diagnosis is the key to helping children with autism.
Children who have autism and their families face many challenges. They are at risk of being bullied. Their behaviors puzzle others and cause social isolation.. Children with autism lack an understanding of how their behaviors and words affect others. They struggle with understanding typical cadence in conversations so, they tend to dominate conversations, not pausing to allow someone else to speak. Conversely, their responses in a conversation could be delayed, which confuses others. They become easily overwhelmed by external and internal stimuli which can lead to ‘melt downs’. This can be managed and they can be taught skills to improve coping and social skills.
The diagnosis of autism is not the end of the world. There are many programs and services that can help children and families navigate the challenges. Many children on the spectrum go on to become successful adults with the ability to sustain healthy relationships. Parents, doctors, educators and mental health professionals all play a role in the success of a child who has ASD.
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