Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them. ASD has wide-ranging levels of severity and varying characteristics, where no two people on the autism spectrum are alike.
ASD is a neuro-developmental disability thought to have neurological or genetic causes (or both). However, the cause is not yet fully understood and there is no cure. A person on the autism spectrum has difficulties in some areas of their development, but other skills may develop typically.
The term autism spectrum disorder includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PPD-NOS). It affects around 1 in 100 to 1 in 110 people of school age, with males being around four times more likely to be affected than females.
Diagnostic categories and
criteria for ASD
ASD is diagnosed through an assessment which includes observing and meeting with the individual, their family and service providers. Information is gathered regarding the individual’s strengths and difficulties, particularly in the areas of social interaction and social communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours.
Such information may be obtained by administering standardised tests or questionnaires. ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood, but assessments can be undertaken at any age. There is no single behaviour that indicates ASD. There are no blood tests that can detect ASD.
Developmental paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists with experience in assessing individuals with ASD are qualified to make a diagnosis.
If you have concerns, your GP may refer you to a developmental paediatrician or diagnostic assessment service in your area.
People on the autism spectrum have difficulties in the two main areas of:
Social communication and interaction
Restricted or repetitive behaviours, interests and activities.
Assessment for ASD and Costs
There is no medical test for diagnosing ASD. ASD is diagnosed through observation by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals.
Depending on your personal circumstances the cost will vary. In a public system the cost of each assessment may be covered but you will need to ask if there are any extra expenses. If you have a diagnostic assessment in the private system you will need to ask the clinic or doctor’s practice about the cost of all the assessments and how much is covered by Medicare. If you have private health insurance contact them to find out how much you will be able to claim.
Communication for people on the autism spectrum
People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty with communication. They may have difficulty expressing their needs. Some people on the autism spectrum never develop language, while others might have good verbal language skills.
For those who do develop language, they may have difficulties using appropriate grammar and vocabulary, and in constructing meaningful sentences. They may misunderstand words, interpret them literally or not understand them at all. Other people’s feelings and emotions can be difficult to understand.
Social interaction for people on the autism spectrum
People on the autism spectrum can find social skills and social communication very difficult. This may mean that they appear disinterested in others, ‘aloof’ or unsure of how to engage in social interactions. They may have difficulty using or interpreting non-verbal communication such as eye contact, gestures and facial expressions, or appear disinterested in the experiences and emotions of others. Establishing and maintaining friendships can be challenging for some people on the autism spectrum.
Some people on the autism spectrum appear to be withdrawn and can become isolated – others try very hard to be sociable, but may not seem to get it right. There is a range of help available, including assessment, education programs and family support.
Why is diagnosis important?
To get to know the child better; A diagnostic assessment looks at all the things a child is good at and where they need help. It gives health professionals, parents, carers, family members, teachers and the child a better understanding of how to manage and or care for the child.
To access services that can help the child; a diagnosis may help you access services in the community that best meet the child’s needs.
To answer your questions; A diagnostic assessment helps you understand more about the child. If you are wondering why the child has challenges in some areas of their life (for example, school, behaviour, memory) the diagnosis will help answer your questions.
To improve the quality of life; a diagnosis and management plan can contribute to positive long-term outcomes for the child and their family.
Management of ASD diagnosis
Effective early intervention programs are an important first step for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with other disabilities or developmental concerns. Early diagnosis followed by individualised early intervention can provide the best opportunities for achieving their potential.
The period following a diagnosis is an extremely challenging one for families. Not only are you experiencing many emotions, you are also faced with decisions regarding intervention options for your child. This period of decision-making can be overwhelming for parents, given the nature of waiting lists, the number of different service providers, and the desire to help your children as quickly as possible.
An early diagnosis followed by early intervention provides the best opportunities for a child with autism.
Early intervention, specialised education and structured support can help develop an individual’s skills. Every individual with ASD will make progress, although each individual’s progress will be different. Progress depends on a number of factors including the unique makeup of the individual and the type and intensity of intervention.
With the support of family, friends and service providers, individuals with ASD can achieve a good quality of life.
Q. What are the early signs of autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours and sensory sensitivities. Some of the following may be the early indicators of autism. However, it is important to note that no single indicator necessarily signals autism – usually a child would present with several indicators from some of the following categories:
- Social Skills
Q. How Can I Tell if My Child has Autism?
Though autism cannot be definitively diagnosed until around 18 to 24 months, research shows that children as young as 8 to 12 months may exhibit early signs. Parents should look for symptoms such as no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months; no babbling or back-and-forth gestures (e.g. pointing) by 12 months; or any loss of babbling, speech or social skills at any age.
Q. How common is it and what are its causes?
Research shows that about 1 in 100 children, almost 230 000 Australians, have an ASD and that it is more prevalent in boys than girls.
Currently, there is no single known cause for ASD, however recent research has identified strong genetic links. ASD is not caused by an individual’s upbringing or their social circumstances.