Autism spectrum disorder is hard. That diagnosis reminds you that life has changed forever.
You struggle with denial, asking, “Is this real? Can I handle this?” You’re frustrated and confused with all the uncertainty. And you’re exhausted, questioning your knowledge and capacity to love.
Autism puts a strain on so much of your emotions.
And here’s the kicker.
All these emotions get mixed up and before you know it, you’re having a major meltdown.
It’s too much to process, and you want something simple, yet helpful.
With 1 in 50 children obtaining a diagnosis of autism, things get complicated. Added to that, there is no cure. For this reason, getting the information needed to thrive is a must.
Parents and children need to learn about how this condition affects their life. And that’s not easy to cope with.
That’s where I come in.
Learning how to interact with an autistic child is major because it sets you up for success.
This is why you must arm yourself with the right information to ensure success.
So, let’s get started.
What is Autism?
This is the #1 question asked by most parents.
Autism is shorthand for the medical term “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
It describes a wide range of conditions. Often these include challenges with communication, social skills, and repetitive or restricted behavior.
There is no definitive cause of autism. Nonetheless, increased awareness, early diagnosis, and treatment are improving behavioral outcomes yearly.
Historically there were several distinctions made regarding how autism displays from person to person. You may have heard of Aspergers, high functioning autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (or PDD-NOS). These were all associated with autism.
In talking about autism, you’ve more than likely heard the above terms used. We’ll discuss those in a moment.
But it’s important to note here that in recent years, some of the terminology about autism has changed. From time to time this happens, as doctors seek to better describe and classify autism.
Below is a description of some of the previous terms, and these may sound familiar.
This is the type of autism that the majority of people referred to. It described individuals who usually have social challenges. It would include those who have a particular interest and consistent unusual behaviors. Intellectual disabilities would also be common. Deficits in social communication, social interaction, and understanding relationships were prevalent as well.
This described individuals who have the milder type of autistic disorder. It included persons with social and behavioral deficiencies that weren’t overpowering. Common traits would include high intelligence and laser-focused interests. Language and intellectual disabilities wouldn’t be prevalent here.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
PDD described a condition that was unspecific. It meant that a person was on the autism spectrum but didn’t meet all criteria to fit into a specific diagnosis. Individuals would present challenges in communication and social interaction. Many referred to PDD as atypical autism.
High-functioning autism was never a medical diagnosis. Rather, it was more of an unofficial term people used often. It described persons with an autism spectrum disorder who can read, write and communicate well.
Independent management of daily tasks like eating and getting dressed was common here. Individuals would often have difficulty understanding subtle social cues. Challenges here would include eye contact, socialization and making friends.
The term also described individuals displaying repetitive or a limited range of behaviors. To add, a fixation on routines and extreme order would also be common.
For many years doctors used one of these different terms to diagnose individuals.
Change in Diagnosis Terminology
So what changed and why?
The conditions listed above overlapped, even though they were in different categories. This presented some challenges for doctors when it came to diagnosing clients. So in 2013, the medical community made a significant change. They combined all the conditions and placed them all under the ASD diagnosis. Since then, doctors began diagnosing individuals according to severity under this ASD umbrella. So whereas we formerly used the terms Aspergers or PDD-NOS, we now refer to an individual’s level of severity on the Autism Spectrum.
Levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Currently there are 3 levels (or types) of Autism Spectrum Disorder. These levels classify how autism is displayed from person to person. So ASD ranges from mild, moderate to severe. Level 1 is a type of autism that requires minimal supports. Level 2 is moderate, and substantial support, and Level 3 requires intensive support.
What Are The Signs of Autism?
Once you learn the signs of autism, you’ll start picking up on some of those subtle signs! And it’s inevitable that you’ll want some kind of roadmap or blueprint.
You’ll want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt if your child has autism.
Well, that’s why I’m going to break down the signs by age. That’s a helpful way to provide you with some direction.
Below are some signs that your healthcare provider will look for. Remember, you’ll still need to consult a professional for a diagnosis. A developmental pediatrician or psychiatrist conducts the assessment necessary to provide the diagnosis.
Recognizing the early signs and getting a diagnosis will give you a crucial jump start. With autism, early detection and intervention are major factors in preparing for success.
Here are some developmental milestone symptoms
At 6 Months
- Not regular smiling or displaying joyful and engaging expressions.
- Eye contact is short or absent coupled with no babbling.
At 9 Months
- The absence of imitating or making sounds.
- No smiling or mimicking of facial expressions.
At 12 Months
- Limited or no babbling.
- Limited or no imitating of gestures, pointing, or waving of hands. Reaching for objects of interest is almost non-existent.
- No response to their name. In other words, seeming as though they are ignoring you when you call them.
At 16 Months
- Little to no words at all.
- Not pointing to objects of interest like cars or cartoon characters.
At 24 Months
- Difficulty putting together two-word phrases in a meaningful way.
- Choosing to imitate, echoing and repeating as the preferred means of communication.
If your child does any of the following, he/she may have ASD:
- Avoids eye contact, unlike other kids.
- Delay in language development.
- Echolalia – persistent repetition of words or phrases.
- Focused on restricted interests, hence obsessing over one toy.
- Changes in routine are often met with resistance or anger.
- Repetitive behaviors such as spinning, rocking, hand flapping.
- Reacting to sounds, lights, smells, taste or colors in an unusual way.
- Prefers to be alone often in spite of other playing nearby.
- No understanding of other people’s feelings and non-expression of their feelings.
- Imaginary play with toys or dolls in non-existent.
What Causes Autism?
That is a relevant question at this point in the discussion.
If you think your child has autism, you’d want to know how the condition came about.
There is nothing on the medical record to say with 100% certainty what causes autism. Most accept that it results from abnormalities in the brain’s development and function.
There is one group of esteemed researchers that link an abnormal gene to autism. There are lots of articles that suggest genetic makeup.
Some scientist suggest chemical imbalances. Further conversations mention viruses or babies deprived of oxygen at birth.
As you can see there are many hypotheses in the medical community, but none conclusive.
Considering that reality, the most certain action you can take in autism spectrum disorder is an early diagnosis.
Here are a few steps you can take.
The 3 Steps For Autism Spectrum Diagnosis
Step 1: Learning the Signs
- The first 6 months are crucial, regardless of gender.
Step 2: Get Your Child Screened
- Most of the time doctors can detect ASD at or before 18 months
- Experienced professionals can give a reliable diagnosis by the age of 2 years old.
Step 3: Access Services
- If diagnosed with autism, get your child the necessary help as soon as possible.
- Get specific tools and resources to help guide you through your first steps.
In summary, there’s a lot to learn about autism spectrum disorder. This page gives you a brief introduction and will serve as a resource to you.
Before getting to the activities and interventions, you’ll have to get a grip on the basics.
You’ll have lots of time to take part in the different Autism Awareness activities.
As you grow in your autism IQ, you’ll become energized as you apply what you’ve learned. You’ll see. I can’t wait!
Check out my Pinterest profile where you can find autism memes or quotes.
I wrote this article to make your ASD journey easier.
For a continuation of support, please join my newsletter. And if you haven’t already, download my autism checklist.
After all, I provide some great tips on dealing with autism spectrum disorder.
I’m here to help as much as I can.
Go ahead and click around the blog. There’s a lot of great content on autism.
Remember, you and your child are AU-some!
A.D. Daisley holds a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida and has been working in the field as a Behavior Analyst since 2005. He has provided services to children and adults with varying diagnoses such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His scope of experience also includes coordinating therapy to individuals and families in conjunction with other supports including School Teachers, Adult Day Training Facility Staff (ADT’s) and Speech/Occupational therapists. He is the Director and Behavior Analyst at Alternative Outcomes since 2007. A.D is also the Director of Creátre, a non-profit organization that uses the arts for the purpose of skill training, outreach and to display community leadership.