Inside Autism Spectrum Disorder

Posted on Jan 30, 2014 in From Our Team- Blog

Contributor: Abby Connor, MS, NCC, LPC
Outpatient Supervisor,
Southwest Philadelphia Autism Center of Excellence

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities characterized by social impairments, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. The severity of symptoms varies widely across three core areas and affects each individual in different ways. ASD includes
autistic disorder, Rett Syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, and Asperger syndrome. According to estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD affects 1 in 88 children in America.

Symptoms often first present between 12 and 18 months. Parents may notice their child showing unusual behaviors or not meeting developmental milestones. Pediatricians should also screen for developmental milestones during routine well visits from birth to 36 months. If a question arises regarding the child’s development, a referral should be
made to a specialist in developmental evaluations and early intervention.

There is no known single cause for autism; however it is believed that genetics and environment play a role. Some babies are thought to have a genetic vulnerability to autism that then can be triggered by something in the external environment, either while still in the womb or after birth. Despite controversy on the subject, no reliable study has
shown a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Research studies have identified rare gene changes and mutations, as well as irregularities in several areas of the brain that are associated with the disorder.

While there is no cure for autism, intensive early intervention can bring substantial improvement in symptoms. There is a wide range of treatment available that can be tailored to meet the individual’s needs. Some treatment options include behavioral, educational, social skills therapies and family counseling.

There remain many unknowns regarding autism, but what we do know is that people on the autism spectrum can and do lead productive, meaningful and fulfilling lives when given appropriate support and opportunities.