Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an intricate developmental condition that affects individuals’ social interactions. Individuals may also have limited interests and repetitive behaviors. Although it is viewed as a lifelong condition, the extent of functional impairment resulting from these challenges varies significantly among individuals with autism. This is also known as the autism spectrum.

ASD can develop before the age of 3 and continue throughout a person’s life. Children with autism may show symptoms as young as 1 year. As children with ASD transition into adolescence and young adulthood, they may encounter challenges in friendships, communicating with peers and adults, and understanding expected behaviors in school or the workplace.  For those with higher functioning forms of ASD, they tend to take a bit longer to mature to independence in adulthood.

ASD Signs & Symptoms

Some individuals with ASD may have relatively mild symptoms and lead relatively independent lives, while others may require significant support and assistance with daily living.

Common signs and characteristics of ASD may include:

Social Communication Challenges:
  • Limited or inconsistent use of facial expressions and gestures.
  • Difficulty with conversational skills, including turn-taking and understanding social norms.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and understanding others’ emotions.
  • Delayed or atypical language development.
  • Echolalia (repeating words or phrases without apparent meaning).
  • Limited or narrow vocabulary.
  • Difficulty with understanding humor, sarcasm, or idiomatic expressions.
Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests:
  • Engaging in repetitive movements, such as hand-flapping, rocking, or spinning objects.
  • Insistence on sameness and routines; distress when routines are disrupted.
  • Intense, specific interests in particular topics or objects.
  • Engaging in repetitive play or activities.
  • Unusual sensory sensitivities, including hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli like light, sound, taste, or touch.

ASD Diagnosis

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed in children?

It is crucial to seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis from a healthcare provider or developmental specialist. Early intervention services can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with ASD.

For children, a healthcare provider will provide general development screenings. If there are signs of ASD, the provider may refer the child to additional evaluations. This generally involves a team of professionals such as psychologists, pediatricians, neurologists, and occupational therapists.

A comprehensive diagnostic evaluation for children may include:

  • Communication, language, and behavior assessments
  • Parent/Caregiver input about the child’s development history, behaviors, milestones, and any concerns
  • Observations of the child’s social interactions and behaviors in social settings (school, home, and clinical settings)

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed in adults?

ASD can be more difficult to diagnose in adults due to changing symptoms over time. Anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder can also look like ASD symptoms. Diagnosing ASD in adults requires specialized assessment by experienced psychologists who can adapt diagnostic tools to the unique characteristics and challenges.

Adults can request a referral for evaluation by a psychologist. During the evaluation, the specialist will gather a detailed history and directly assess the following areas:
  • Challenges related to social interaction and communication
  • Sensory sensitivities and issues
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Restricted or intense interests

ASD Treatments

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder treated?

There are various treatments for individuals with autism. An expert can help provide the right treatment. Some psychotherapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, Play Therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis, and Animal-Assisted Therapy. A psychologist can work with general health providers for specific medications in addition to therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on helping individuals recognize unhelpful rigid thought patterns and behaviors. CBT involves techniques where unhelpful patterns are replaced with more balanced, flexible ones. 

Group Therapy

Group Therapy is when a small group of individuals meet with a psychologist to discuss and address their personal and emotional challenges. It offers a supportive and confidential environment for participants to share their experiences, receive feedback, and provide mutual support.  Groups at our clinic also include a process component where clients directly work on interpersonal skills during the group to translate to their everyday lives.

Play Therapy

Play Therapy is used with children to help them identify and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through play. It recognizes that children may have difficulty articulating emotions and experiences verbally, and play provides a natural and developmentally appropriate means of communication. 

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis focuses on understanding and modifying behavior. It involves the systematic analysis of behavior to increase desired behaviors.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy involves the inclusion of trained animals as a part of a person’s treatment plan to promote physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. At Psychology Express, emotionally trained dogs may be available for certain appointments.

Additional Help

If you suspect yourself or a loved one shows signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is highly encouraged to seek a diagnosis. This can help provide them with access to appropriate support and services.

To request an appointment with a provider, fill out this form.

Resources for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Overview of ASD (NIMH)

Autism Facts (CDC)

What is ASD? (American Psychiatric Association)

Additional Symptoms of Autism (Mayo Clinic)

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