Has your child recently been diagnosed with autism? Autism, now medically termed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can be scary, but you are not alone or without avenues for help. Around 1 in every 54 children is diagnosed with it. People with ASD are more than capable of living happy and healthy lives. When you notice it in childhood, it means that you can give your child the best possible care and education early on!
If you’re new to autism, you might be filled with questions like, “What is autism? Did I cause it? How should I treat my child or children with autism?”
We’re here to fill in the answers to some of the most common questions about autism. We’ll cover the symptoms of autism, autism tests, potential causes of autism, and everything else that you need to know. Keep reading to learn more!
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
You may have heard autism referred to in different ways: autism, autism spectrum disorder, ASD, “on the spectrum,” and more. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association grouped together five types of autism under the “umbrella” of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before that, they were five distinct disorders, and diagnosing them wasn’t standardized. The five categories are:
- Autistic Disorder
- Asperger Syndrome
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Rett Syndrome
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Autism is a condition that is characterized by impaired communication, difficulty with social skills, fixations, and repetitive behavior. It can look similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety (and it can also co-occur with those conditions).
With the information that we have now, it’s easier to identify autism in children (even infants and toddlers). Autism is a life-long condition, and it’s important to be familiar with the signs so you can recognize them early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a page and even a mobile app on tracking certain developmental milestones. There are different severities of autism spectrum disorders. Some people with ASD have very few problems with communication, learning, or social interaction. Others may have significant learning disabilities or be non-vocal entirely.
Because of that wide range, many people who have less “severe” cases of ASD may not get diagnosed when they’re still children. Getting a developmental screening for autism by your regular pediatrician or other medical professional is key.
Keep in mind, it’s common for children with autism to develop mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Studies have shown that people with ASD are more likely to have mental health issues than those without autism.
Male and Female Differences in Diagnosing ASD
Males are diagnosed with autism about four times more often than females. Many girls and women with autism have gone undiagnosed because of the ways that the condition sometimes presents differently. Girls with ASD are underdiagnosed by a large margin. This may be because the symptoms are unusual or because they seem like “normal parts” of young girlhood.
There also may be discrepancies based on the ability to mask or hide autistic traits in social situations. Females have been shown to be better at practicing or imitating appropriate social skills. If you’re the parent of a girl, you should trust your instincts when it comes to autism testing. Getting a clear diagnosis of autism is crucial for early intervention.
What Causes Autism?
There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about the different causes of autism. This makes a lot of parents worry that their child’s condition is their fault, which is not true.
The most common misinformation is the idea that early vaccinations cause autism. This idea was popularized by an untrustworthy doctor and several misguided celebrities who, unfortunately, spread the myth to the rest of the world. There is no scientific debate about this. Vaccines do not cause autism.
What are autism causes? This is where things get more complicated. There is no one cause of autism. Even the different risk factors scientists have researched aren’t causes. They may or may not increase the chance that a child will develop autism.
There are a few environmental factors that might contribute to the risk for autism. These risks are small (if they exist at all).
It’s also possible that gene changes happen within the womb while the embryo is developing. There doesn’t need to be a reason for this to happen.
There are a few environmental factors that go into a potential risk for autism. These risks are small (if they exist at all).
Older parents may be more likely to bear children with autism, as well are parents who have abnormal births (like premature births or multiple births). It’s also possible that pregnancies that are too close together could lead to an increased risk of autism.
On the other hand, mothers who take prenatal vitamins while pregnant may provide a decreased risk of autism to their child.
5 Common Autism Symptoms
There are plenty of ways to identify whether or not your child may have autism. Keep in mind that some of these “symptoms of autism” are also normal childhood activities or stages. When in doubt, seek a professional screening or diagnosis of autism to be certain.
Signs of autism can start as early as infancy but often don’t make themselves obvious until age 2 or 3. While all children approach their milestones differently, talk to your pediatrician if you feel like your child is far behind in communication.
- When your child is still a baby, they may have trouble following objects with their eyes and making eye contact. They may also have a hard time mirroring the facial expressions of others.
- When children are pre-vocal, they gesture to get your attention and notify you of things that they want you to see. Children who aren’t yet gesturing within their first year may be displaying signs of autism.
- When your child is a toddler, you may notice that they’re not interested in communicating with other children. They may not be capable of vocal communication at all.
- It’s also common for toddlers and children with autism to develop “special interests.” Are they hyper-fixated on a cartoon or hobby to the point that they have lost interest in other things?
- Finally, you can look for repetitive behaviors or “stimming.” This is a self-soothing behavior for stressed children with autism. They may move their hands in unusual ways or make unusual noises.
Download our free infographic to see the differences in the three levels of autism as defined by the medical community.
5 Ways Parents Can Help Children with Autism
Once your child has received an autism diagnosis from a qualified professional, such as a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician, what can you do to help them? There are plenty of ways to give your child a good head start.
- If you’re worried and you’re unable to get a diagnosis, start adjusting your lifestyle anyway. An autism-friendly lifestyle is good for all children, so you won’t be doing any harm.
- Educate yourself on autism spectrum disorders so that you’re ready to support and protect your child in the best way possible. This is also a good time to start paying extra attention to your child, so you can connect their behaviors with any potential triggers.
- Create a stimulating environment at home. Many children with autism have sensory difficulties (which lead to their behaviors). Create a space that has many sensory objects and toys. These things are good for all children, regardless of whether or not they have autism.
- Make sure that you create a structured schedule for your child. Children with autism often struggle when they don’t have a structure in their lives, and because all children thrive with structure, this is a great way to incorporate support even if you’re not sure about your child’s diagnosis (or if you’re including your other children).
- Finally, make sure that you’re advocating for your child. Seek out autism treatments for them and keep an eye on their education. They may need special care in school, so talk to their teachers about your concerns and any next steps.
What Is Autism Therapy?
The most common treatment for autism and the only scientifically proven method is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. It’s endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office and many other government and private organizations as an approved therapy for people with ASD.
It allows children to learn life skills and coping skills in a way that still allows them to have fun. It’s also helpful in reducing unwanted behaviors so that your child is better able to integrate into the school system and have a strong social life.
Does Your Child Need ABA Therapy?
Supporting a child with autism early on is crucial if you want them to develop into happy and healthy adults. Autism is manageable, and while the severity of autism varies, many children are more than capable of managing symptoms.
With the specialized structure at ABA Centers of America, our therapists aim to help with your child’s social development, cognitive development, life skills, and more. We want to support you and your child.
Contact us with any questions about our program or to get a free consultation with one of our compassionate autism treatment professionals. We’re here to help you and your family!