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Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects how a person communicates, interacts, and behaves with others. ASD is a spectrum, meaning that it can vary in severity and characteristics from person to person. ASD can be diagnosed in early childhood, but some people may not receive a diagnosis until later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 54 children in the United States has ASD (Maenner et al., 2020).

There is no single cause or cure for ASD, but research has identified some genetic and environmental factors that may increase the risk of developing ASD. Some of these factors include having an older parent, having a sibling with ASD, being exposed to certain chemicals or infections during pregnancy, or having certain genetic mutations or syndromes (CDC, 2020).

ASD can affect various aspects of a person’s development, such as social skills, language, cognition, sensory processing, motor skills, and adaptive behaviour. People with ASD may have difficulties in understanding social cues, expressing emotions, initiating or maintaining conversations, or developing friendships. They may also have restricted or repetitive interests, behaviours, or movements, such as playing with the same toy, repeating words or phrases, or rocking or flapping their hands. Some people with ASD may have sensory sensitivities or preferences, such as being bothered by loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures, or seeking out specific sensations, such as spinning or touching objects. Additionally, some people with ASD may have co-occurring conditions, such as intellectual disability, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, or epilepsy (CDC, 2020).

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for ASD, but there are various interventions that can help people with ASD improve their skills and outcomes. These interventions are based on evidence from scientific research that shows positive effects for people with ASD. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) for ASD can be delivered by professionals, such as teachers, therapists, or doctors, or by parents or caregivers at home or in the community. EBPs for ASD can target different domains of development, such as communication, social skills, behaviour, academics, or daily living skills. Some examples of EBPs for ASD are applied behaviour analysis (ABA), social skills training, visual supports, naturalistic intervention, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (Wong et al., 2015; Hume et al., 2021).

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The choice of intervention for a person with ASD should be based on their individual needs, strengths, preferences, and goals. It should also consider the availability and feasibility of the intervention in different settings and contexts. The effectiveness of the intervention should be monitored and evaluated regularly to ensure that it is meeting the desired outcomes and addressing the changing needs of the person with ASD. Furthermore, the intervention should be delivered with fidelity and consistency to ensure that it is following the established guidelines and procedures of the EBP (Wong et al., 2015; Hume et al., 2021).

ASD is a complex and diverse condition that requires ongoing support and intervention throughout the lifespan. By using EBPs for ASD, people with ASD can enhance their skills and abilities and improve their quality of life.

Signs of autistic spectrum disorder

Some of the common signs of ASD in children and young adults include:

Not responding to their name, avoiding eye contact, or not smiling when smiled at

  • Getting very upset by certain sensory stimuli, such as sounds, smells, or tastes
  • Performing repetitive movements, such as flapping hands, flicking fingers, or rocking body
  • Having difficulties with social rules, such as taking turns, sharing, or understanding emotions
  • Having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities and following a strict routine
  • Taking things very literally or not understanding sarcasm or figurative language

These signs may vary depending on the age, gender, and individual characteristics of the person with ASD. For example, autistic girls may hide some signs of ASD by copying how other children behave and play, or withdraw in situations they find difficult (NHS, 2022). Autistic adults may also have challenges with finding friends, coping with changes, or expressing their feelings (NHS, 2022).

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It is important to seek professional advice if one suspects that they or their child may have ASD, as getting diagnosed can help them get the appropriate support and interventions they may need (Mayo Clinic, 2018). There are various tools and assessments that can help diagnose ASD, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) or the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) (National Autistic Society, n.d.).

References

CDC. (2020). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

Hume, K., Steinbrenner, J. R., Odom, S. L., Morin, K. L., Nowell, S. W., Tomaszewski, B., Szendrey, S., McIntyre, N. S., Yücesoy-Özkan, S., & Savage, M. N. (2021). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism: Third generation review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 51(11), 4013–4032. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04844-2

Leaf, J. B., Sato, S. K., Javed, A., Arthur, S. M., Creem, A. N., Cihon, J. H., Ferguson, J. L., & Oppenheim-Leaf, M. L. (2021). The evidence‐based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism report: Concerns and critiques. Behavioral Interventions, 36(2), 457–472. https://doi.org/10.1002/bin.1771

Maenner, M.J., Shaw, K.A., Baio, J., Washington, A., Patrick, M., DiRienzo, M., Christensen, D.L., Wiggins, L.D., Dowling, N.F., Riehle-Colarusso, T., Peterson, C., Lipkin, P.H., Shapiro, A., White, T., Hall-Lande, J., Lee, L-C., Griffith, M., Elder, J.H., Zahorodny, W., … Durkin, M.S. (2020). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2016. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 69(4), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6904a1

Mayo Clinic. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder – Symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928

National Autistic Society. (n.d.). What is autism. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism

NHS. (2022). Signs of autism in children. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/signs/children/

NHS. (2022). Signs of autism in adults. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/signs/adults/

Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K., Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (2015). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: A comprehensive review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(7), 1951–1966. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2351-z

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