Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life. It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates, and learns. It includes what used to be known as Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.
It is called a “spectrum” disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms. People with ASD might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may also have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. They may spend a lot of time putting things in order, or they may say the same sentence again and again. They may often seem to be in their “own world.”
At well-child checkups, the health care provider should check your child’s development. If there are signs of ASD, your child will have a comprehensive evaluation. It may include a team of specialists, doing various tests and evaluations to make a diagnosis.
The causes of ASD are not known. Research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles.
There is currently no one standard treatment for ASD. There are many ways to increase your child’s ability to grow and learn new skills. Starting them early can lead to better results. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies, skills training, and medicines to control symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Scientists do not know yet exactly what causes these differences for most people with ASD. However, some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition. There are multiple causes of ASD, although most are not yet known.
There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.
ASD begins before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children with ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. Studies have shown that one third to half of parents of children with an ASD noticed a problem before their child’s first birthday, and nearly 80%–90% saw problems by 24 months of age.
It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms. But for people with ASD, the impairments make life very challenging.
Possible “Red Flags”
A person with ASD might:
- Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
- Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
- Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
- Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Have delayed speech and language skills
- Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
- Give unrelated answers to questions
- Get upset by minor changes
- Have obsessive interests
- Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
- Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
Dr. Laura Jansons
Dr. Jansons is in private practice in Arlington Heights, Illinois. She provides neuropsychological assessment for adults and children and is growing her neuorotherapy and neurofeedback clinic. She has been providing direct therapy, assessment, professional training, and scholarly contributions in her field since 1990.
Dr. Jansons began her career at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology and master’s degree in Human Developmental Counseling. Her doctorate is from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and she completed her Neuropsychology Certificate Training at Fielding Graduate University. She is a Board-Certified Fellow of the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology. She is also Board Certified in Neurofeedback with the Board Certification International Alliance (BCIA).
Dr. Jansons’ research interests are in Large Scale Brain Systems, neural network dynamics, and cerebellar and vertically organized brain functioning. She is a co-partner in many projects including a start-up company for developing a web portal for patients and advanced clinicians, and she participates in the technical development of custom brain entertainment therapies. She is also a performing musician.