Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Dear Parents, we know you have a lot of burning questions on autism. This blog post should clarify most of them.
Still have questions? Connect with us and we'd be happy to discuss!
Avishi Center has been working with parents like you for more than a decade. Having interacted with several of them over the course of time, we understand your thoughts, your fears and your expectations. The following questions are most asked to us. Feel free to jump to any section as these are not ranked in any order.
What Is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders.
These disorders are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. People with ASD often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped interests or patterns of behavior.
ASD is found in individuals around the world, regardless of race, culture, or economic background.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism does occur more often in boys than in girls, with a 4 to 1 male-to-female ratio.
What are the different types of autism?
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is used by clinicians to diagnose a variety of psychiatric disorders.
The fifth and most recent edition of the DSM was released in 2013. The DSM-5 currently recognizes five different ASD subtypes, or specifiers. They are:
with or without accompanying intellectual impairment
with or without accompanying language impairment
associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
Someone can be diagnosed with one or more specifiers.
Prior to the DSM-5, people on the autism spectrum may have been diagnosed with one of the following disorders:
pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
childhood disintegrative disorder
It’s important to note that a person who received one of these earlier diagnoses hasn’t lost their diagnosis and won’t need to be reevaluated.
According to the DSM-5, the broader diagnosis of ASD encompasses disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome..
What are the symptoms of autism?
Autism symptoms typically become clearly evident during early childhood, between 12 and 24 months of age. However, symptoms may also appear earlier or later.
Early symptoms may include a marked delay in language or social development.
The DSM-5 divides symptoms of autism into two categories: problems with communication and social interaction, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities.
Problems with communication and social interaction include:
issues with communication, including difficulties sharing emotions, sharing interests, or maintaining a back-and-forth conversation
issues with nonverbal communication, such as trouble maintaining eye contact or reading body language
difficulties developing and maintaining relationships
Restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities include:
repetitive movements, motions, or speech patterns
rigid adherence to specific routines or behaviors
an increase or decrease in sensitivity to specific sensory information from their surroundings, such as a negative reaction to a specific sound
fixated interests or preoccupations
Individuals are evaluated within each category and the severity of their symptoms is noted.
In order to receive an ASD diagnosis, a person must display all three symptoms in the first category and at least two symptoms in the second category.
What causes autism?
The exact cause of ASD is unknown. The most current research demonstrates that there’s no single cause.
Some of the suspected risk factors for autism include:
having an immediate family member with autism
fragile X syndrome and other genetic disorders
being born to older parents
low birth weight
exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins
a history of viral infections
fetal exposure to the medications valproic acid (Depakene) or thalidomide (Thalomid)
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), both genetics and environment may determine whether a person develops autism.
What tests are used to diagnose autism?
An ASD diagnosis involves several different screenings, genetic tests, and evaluations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children undergo screening for ASD at the ages of 18 and 24 months.
Screening can help with early identification of children who could have ASD. These children may benefit from early diagnosis and intervention.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) is a common screening tool used by many pediatric offices. This 23-question survey is filled out by parents. Pediatricians can then use the responses provided to identify children that may be at risk of having ASD.
It’s important to note that screening isn’t a diagnosis. Children who screen positively for ASD don’t necessarily have the disorder. Additionally, screenings sometimes don’t detect every child that has ASD.
Other screenings and tests
Your child’s physician may recommend a combination of tests for autism, including:
DNA testing for genetic diseases
visual and audio tests to rule out any issues with vision and hearing that aren’t related to autism
occupational therapy screening
developmental questionnaires, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
Diagnoses are typically made by a team of specialists. This team may include child psychologists, occupational therapists, or speech and language pathologists.