Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental illness that impacts how individuals connect, communicate, learn, and conduct. People with autism have repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities and have trouble getting along with other people.

Last Updated: February 21, 2024

Recent studies have shown an increasing rate of ASD. This trend may be due to increasing awareness and several other reasons. An estimated one person in every 68 has ASD. 

The exact cause for a person having ASD remains unknown; however, studies reveal that a person's genes and environment both contribute to developing ASD. Some known risk factors include:

  • Autism-diagnosed sibling
  • Aged parents
  • Genetic disorders (such as Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome)
  • Low birthweight

Below are some ASD-related behaviors. Not all ASD patients exhibit all behaviors, but most do.

Social communication/interaction behaviors may include:

  • Eye contact is inconsistent;
  • Ignoring those who are talking;
  • Rarely displaying interest in goods or activities;
  • Not reacting to one's name or spoken attention requests.

Restrictive/repetitive behaviors may include:

  • Repeating words or phrases (also known as echolalia);
  • Having a deep interest in numbers, details, or facts;
  • Overly concentrated on moving items or parts;
  • Having trouble with normal shifts and transitions;
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, clothes, or temperature.

Doctors diagnose someone with ASD by looking at their behavior and development. Autism is commonly diagnosed at age 2. 

Diagnosing in children is composed of two stages. Well-child developmental screenings and additional diagnostics

  • Medical and neurological exams
  • Cognitive assessment
  • Language assessment

ASD is a complicated disorder that sometimes coincides with other illnesses or learning difficulties. Therefore a complete evaluation may include the following: 

  • Blood tests
  • Hearing testing

Adults are more challenging to diagnose than children with ASD because specific ASD symptoms can overlap with anxiety or ADHD. Similarly, doctors will assess a patient based on social and communication difficulties, sensory issues, and repetitive and restrictive behaviors.

Treatment

Most of the therapy strategies are structured and behavior-based. Part of the overall care plans is usually family counseling, which can include teaching the parents how to help the child at home. Depending on the child’s need, therapies can be used to help with language, speech, social skills, occupational skills, and sensory integration. Children with ADHD need long-term care because they may lose their language skills, social skills, and care for themselves.  Treatment for childhood disintegrative disorder includes behavior therapy and therapy focusing on the environment.

A doctor may recommend medicine for the following specific symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Repetition
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety/depression

Parents of ASD patients often face challenges, including social isolation, frustration, strained relationships, and financial problems. One helpful strategy is to get families to tell their own stories, which helps them deal with their feelings. The priority must be on enhancing protective factors, like improving parents' communication and behavior management skills and giving them psycho-education so they can learn how to care for their child and their developmental challenges. Another essential strategy is connecting with others with the same illness, allying, and becoming an advocate.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

Mughal S, Faizy RM, Saadabadi A. Autism Spectrum Disorder. [Updated 2022 Jul 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525976/ 

National Institute of Mental Health (2022). Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved October 29 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd

Last Updated: February 21, 2024