Over the past decade, multiple awareness groups and campaigns have dramatically increased the public’s general knowledge about autism spectrum disorder. There have been changes made to the diagnostic criteria to more accurately identify the signs of autism. As a result, more children are being diagnosed with autism today compared to ten years ago. While there has been some public fear and panic about an “autism epidemic,” autism diagnoses are on the rise simply because autism awareness has made it easier for people to recognize early signs.
So, What is Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a type of genetic condition that usually causes individuals to have repetitive behaviors and difficulty communicating and interacting with others. The autism spectrum covers a broad range of severity and symptoms, and not all people with autism will have significant impairments. Some people with autism may only have mild symptoms, whereas others may have severe difficulty with communicating, learning, and processing stimuli.
In some cases, signs of autism may be recognizable in infancy, and medical professionals can accurately diagnose autism in children at just 2 years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends scheduling both regular developmental screenings throughout childhood, as well as specific autism screenings when your child is 9, 18, and 30 months old.
Signs of Autism in Infants
Autism can cause some developmental delays in infants, so it Is important for parents to notice if their baby isn’t reaching certain milestones. For example, it is common for 12-month-old babies to laugh, make different facial expressions, and babble. It can be a cause for concern if your child turns a year old and hasn’t been displaying any of these behaviors. Recognizing signs of autism in infants doesn’t involve actively looking for symptoms, but rather noticing a lack of normal behaviors such as:
Signs of Autism in Toddlers
Autism can cause a number of social, behavioral, and communication differences by the time your child reaches 3 years of age. Around this time, signs of autism can become more apparent when your child is around other kids their age, as they may not respond to other children at all, or they might have trouble noticing facial expressions. Social and communication differences in children with autism can include:
Children with autism may have some noticeable behaviors by the time they are toddlers. These behaviors tend to be repetitive or obsessive, which can be difficult for parents to understand. Physical manifestations of autism, especially in young children, are typically ways for them to manage anxiety, block out unliked stimuli, or simply to pass the time. Some examples of these behaviors may include:
What to Do If You’re Concerned
If you think your infant or child may be on the autism spectrum, you should schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician for an autism screening as soon as possible. When it comes to your child’s health, you shouldn’t take the advice to just “wait and see” if the signs improve or disappear. Visiting your child’s doctor will allow them to give their professional diagnosis, as well as recommend early intervention programs for your child.
Early intervention has been extremely successful for children by helping them develop social skills and learn how to manage challenging symptoms. If you believe your child needs more assistance with communication, Oakville Wellness Center offers other resources, as well as qualified speech-language pathologists who can help your child become more comfortable with social interactions.
It is normal to feel worried about your young child and what their future holds, but it should be reassuring to know that autism is becoming widely understood and accepted across the country. People with autism today have more opportunities to speak out about their experiences, find employment, and have better support in their education. With early intervention and support from you, your child should expect a bright future.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Awareness and understanding of autism have been steadily improving over the past several years. Groups such as the Organization for Autism Research coordinate events to educate people of all ages about autism and use donations to continue research about autism. This organization also offers resources such as scholarships and employment opportunities for adults with autism and gives self-advocates a platform to speak about their experiences.
Although organizations like these do a great job of educating people about autism, there is still a lot of work to be done. Research must continue before we can fully understand autism, but even with the information already available, many people still have misconceptions and questions about it.
1. What is Autism Anyway?
The Centers for Disease Control refers to autism, or autism spectrum disorder, as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” The autism spectrum includes a wide range of various symptoms, but people on the autism spectrum typically tend to think, communicate, learn, and behave differently than others.
Autism was first recognized in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner when he reported on eleven children who all showed similar symptoms of being uninterested in people, but rather highly interested in their environment. There is no single known cause for autism, but research done by various scientists today have proven that it’s a genetically based condition.
2. Symptoms of Autism: They Vary
People need to understand that autism is on a spectrum, and not every person with autism will have the same symptoms. People with mild autism, which used to be referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, may go undiagnosed for years, whereas others on the autism spectrum may be nonverbal or have significant cognitive impairment. While these are some common signs, this is by no means a comprehensive list or representative of everyone on the spectrum.
Common Symptoms in Infants and Young Children
Common Symptoms in Adolescents and Teenagers
3. Mental Illness Goes Hand-in-Hand with Autism.
It’s fairly common that those who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum often deal with other challenges or mental illness. Symptoms of autism such as feeling uncomfortable in new places or interacting with others may cause anxiety disorders. Sometimes when people with autism notice how they’re different from others around them and feel unable to communicate, they can feel isolated and depressed. Along with anxiety and depression, other challenges people with autism might encounter include eating disorders, aggressive behavior, insomnia, or other difficulties with sleeping.
4. Many Myths Still Surround Autism.
While the general public knows more about autism than they did ten years ago, there are still misconceptions that people believe. A few myths about autism include:
5. Parental Support is Just As Important As Professional Support.
Noticing early signs of autism is extremely beneficial for both you and your child. If you recognize any symptoms of autistic behavior in your infant or toddler, it’s recommended to seek a professional diagnosis. Children can be diagnosed accurately at just 18 months of age, and this early intervention can be the key in helping children develop communication skills and manage stressors.
However, while professional guidance is important, you must never underestimate the importance of supporting your child and helping him to better understand his symptoms. The most important thing for parents to remember is to be open-minded to how their child communicates. Listen to phrases your child may repeat, or focus on nonverbal cues, and then communicate in their preferred way. This can lessen confusion and misunderstanding, and can bring you and your child closer together.
If your child has been diagnosed with autism and you’re unsure of where to turn, Oakville Wellness Center has several resources available. If your child has delayed speech or trouble communicating, it can be helpful to contact a speech-language pathologist.
If your child is experiencing a major life change, such as entering school, or you fear they might be struggling with an underlying mental illness, there are resources to help your child.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Over the past several years, people have become more aware of autism and what it entails. This of course is great news for those who cope with its challenges every day. Parents can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone and that there are abundant resources available to help them best meet their children’s needs after diagnosis. Even teachers can access a wide range of lesson plans that appropriately serve children on the spectrum. But what about adults who think they may have autism? How can they get a proper diagnosis? If you are wondering if you might fall on the spectrum and are not sure what to do next, read on for some information and helpful tips.
To start, below are some characteristics commonly observed in adults with autism.
You Are Fixated on One Specific Topic
Maybe you know more about birds than anyone you know and are always eager to share interesting facts about geese migration patterns. Perhaps you can drone on endlessly about 19th century poets. Having an obsession with a specific topic to the point of struggling to discuss anything else is a classic symptom of autism and similar disorders. People who manifest this symptom might even see their “obsession” as a safe haven from things that scare them, like large crowds.
Making Friends is Difficult for You
A lot of people struggle to meet new people and maintain meaningful, lasting relationships with them. However, making and keeping friends is notably challenging for those with autism. Even those who do make friends regularly might struggle to relate to them on a basic level, straining the friendship as a result.
Irony, Sarcasm and Figures of Speech Often Fly Over Your Head
So, somebody told you a really funny joke. At least--it was supposed to be funny. Other people are laughing. Many are at least smiling, knowing something you don’t. All you can do, however, is think “huh?” You might face similar confusion when someone uses figurative language or gives a sarcastic response.
You Struggle to Abandon the Familiar
Many people have a daily routine so familiar to them that they perform it without much thought. For people with autism, breaking that routine can be distressing. For instance, the average person probably would probably be just mildly annoyed if they had to wait an extra ten minutes to go to lunch at work. Someone with autism, however, would probably get anxious over this disruption.
You Feel Very Introverted
Because of their difficulty in social situations, some people with autism prefer to forgo those situations altogether. As a result, they keep to themselves. They might spend this alone time doing things that make them feel most at ease, like reading or listening to music.
I Think I Might Have Autism. What’s Next?
If you fit several of these descriptions, you might fall on the autism spectrum. However, there are some steps you should take to get a proper diagnosis. Read on to learn more.
First Up: Get a Proper Evaluation
As with any condition, it is extremely important you seek out a professional’s opinion before looking into treatment. You must understand that most psychologists who specialize in autism and spectrum disorders follow diagnostic procedures best suited for children. Additionally, the parents play a major role in making an accurate diagnosis--something that many adults do not have. With these things in mind, you would be best served finding a psychologist who treats adults with autism and thus knows what to look for. Testing will likely involve a lot of talking on your part and much observation from the psychologist.
Be Forthcoming with the Psychologist about Your History
Once you find a psychologist who suits your needs, go to your appointment ready to both ask questions and to share a lot of personal history. In other words, the psychologist will likely want a detailed account of your childhood and medical history leading up to the present. Understand that he is not trying to prod for the sake of curiosity; he is trying to get a picture of who you are. You are not the first person this psychologist has seen with these problems, and be grateful for that. All that experience means that he knows exactly how to help you, whether you fall on the spectrum or not.
For more information on how to cope with specific psychological conditions, visit Dr. Syras Derksen.