What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder associated with difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. Other characteristics can include unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as sensitivities to noises, textures, tastes, or the way certain objects look. It is referred to as a specrum disorder because impairments range from mild to severe and vary with each individual.

The range of severity applies to each symptom of ASD. That is, some children may rarely use words to communicate, while others may be extremely verbal with advanced vocabulary. Some children may not like to be hugged or touched, while others seek out and enjoy physical touch. ASD is found in all ethnicities, races, and countries, and occurs in more boys than girls.

Are there disorders that can accompany ASD?

It is possible to be diagnosed with an ASD and also be diagnosed with other disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, intellectual disabilities, and others. Any of these disorders can vary from mild to severe.

What is the best treatment for my child?

Because ASD is unique to the individual, what works for one person may not work for another. Similarly, the process to develop a treatment plan will also vary from one person to another. Autism experts commonly agree that intervention programs supported by solid research produce optimal outcomes. With that said, research also suggests that because ASD is unique to the individual, the results of any particular treatment may be impacted by these individual differences. It is important to keep your focus on the defining characteristics of the individual, what is regarded as best practice and supported by research and autism professionals, and the learning strengths and weaknesses of the individual. 
A comprehensive evaluation can identify these strengths and challenges and yield treatment recommendations. The treatment program should include supports and services that complement each other, are realistic for implementation, and are accessible to the individual in the home, community and school setting. Always work with skilled and qualified professionals to correctly implement the program and to monitor and change the program as the individual changes. 
Varying treatment approaches exist with a wide range of features available. There are programs with fees covered by insurance, state and local agencies, or private pay.

What should I do about problematic behaviors?

While it is impossible to provide a single answer to this question that will apply to every child and every family, there are some guidelines that parents and others can follow in order to handle situations safely and effectively. There may be many different functions, or reasons, some individuals with ASD display problematic behaviors. Due to difficulties with communication, an individual with ASD may become easily frustrated if they are unable to communicate with others or have trouble understanding what to do.
When problematic behavior occurs, it is possible to find the reason or cause for the behavior. This can be done through establishing an understanding of behavior patterns through the guidance of a skilled professional. There is much to be learned by paying close attention to what happens immediately before and after a specific behavior occurs. Once the function or cause of the behavior is understood it is possible to determine an appropriate intervention plan to change or replace the problem behavior with a more appropriate alternative.
Teaching skills that will reduce frustration, increase communication ability and facilitate the replacement of inappropriate behavior with appropriate alternatives can be highly effective. However, it is important to refrain from trying to teach these skills when an individual is upset or engaged in a tantrum. A proactive approach will help minimize or overcome the behavior. Some proactive and preventative steps to take can include:

  • Providing many opportunities for the individual to make choices (e.g., Do you want to use crayon or marker?)
  • Providing lots of positive reinforcement and verbal praise when the individual is not acting out
  • Considering what motivates and makes sense to the individual and use these objects or activities to reward good behavior
  • Providing structure, routine and predictability through the use of routines, schedules and other appropriate supports when dealing with transitions or difficult situations

Can adults with ASD live independent lives?

Individuals with ASD exhibit a wide range of variation when it comes to their levels of functioning. Every person with ASD can learn. Some will require more support and many will marry, work, and raise a family. By teaching individuals with ASD necessary life skills from a young age, these individuals have increased potential to lead successful lives.

What medications are available?

No medication can correct the brain structures or impaired nerve connections that seem to underlie ASD. Scientists have found, however, that medicines developed to treat other disorders with similar symptoms are sometimes effective in treating the symptoms and behaviors that make it hard for individuals with ASD to function at home, school or work. The idea of using medication as part of treatment is something that should be discussed in great detail with your child’s doctor.

Is there a cure for Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Today, there is no cure for ASD. It is not possible to “outgrow” an ASD, but it is possible to “overcome” many symptoms of ASD and gain control of difficult behaviors. With time and appropriate interventions, individuals can learn new strengths and skills. There has been, and continues to be, much progress in the treatment of ASD. 

At this point in time, no one can predict what a child with autism will be like as an adult. However, most experts in the field of autism research and treatment agree that early intervention is essential and critical. There is an ongoing discussion between persons with autism and the medical fields about the use of the term “cure”. Many persons with autism don’t want to be cured.

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Autism Services Across The Lifespan