Primary steps: Recognizing autism spectrum disorders
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which a person exhibits difficulties with social interaction or communication, as well as repetitive or restricted behaviors. The actual presentation of autism can vary widely across a continuum that may include significant delays. Individuals may be non-verbal with challenging or aggressive behaviors. They may have milder impairments, such as advanced language and subtle social awkwardness, or they may engage in restrictive interests or behaviors that are less obvious.
Autism is a life-long condition. Therapies and services focus on increasing the person's ability to function in the home, school and other social settings.
What should you look for in the clinic?
- Language delays
- Not using words to express or indicate their needs (e.g., children who have words that are non-functional/meaningless/gibberish or they only repeat words they hear)
- For older children; not understanding sarcasm, being literal in speech, poor conversational turns, not understanding the perspective of another person
- Social difficulties
- Not responding to their name
- Poor eye contact
- Not involving others in play (e.g., not showing items, not seeking help, not looking up when parent/caregiver comes in the room)
- For school age children, lack of friendships
- Lack of non-verbal communication (pointing, shrugging, nodding, other gestures)
- Difficulties understanding social rules (how to join in, personal space)
- Repetitive behaviors or restrictive interests
- Repetitive rocking, hand flapping, toe walking, or other odd mannerisms
- Overly focused on topics or toys – (e.g., cars, blocks, certain TV shows, videos, cartoons)
- Sensitivities to sound, touch, smell
Keep in mind the presence of any one of these does not necessarily indicate autism. An evaluation with a specialist may find an alternate diagnosis or autism with co-occurring issues. Diagnoses that a specialist would rule out may include global developmental delays, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, anxiety, etc.
What are the initial steps to diagnosis?
- Administer a screening instrument such as MCHAT-R/F
- Refer to Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) if ages 0-3 years with a language delay
- After the age of 3 years, the child's school district may be able to make an educational diagnosis/classification of autism in order to provide services
- Refer to Cook Children's Child Study Center, Psychology, or Neuropsychology for specialty providers who can make a medical diagnosis
What services or treatment may be beneficial?
- Successful interventions are focused on the presenting symptoms and impairments
- Often children with autism receive speech/language therapies, occupational therapies and behavioral approaches such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
- Some challenging symptoms may also include medication as part of treatment
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To request a consultation or refer a patient, contact us at 682-303-9200.