Your child may have just been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as ASD) or you may have heard the teacher mention it. Your child might have a friend with ASD or you may just have some concerns about how your child is developing socially. A good place to begin in any of these situations is to first have a good understanding of what ASD is.
What is ASD?
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that is experienced over the length of the person’s life. This means that it is a condition where for some reason, the brain of the person has not developed in a particular way. ASD is a spectrum disorder which means that there is a spectrum (or scale) that involves a variety of symptoms and each person can present differently depending on where on the spectrum they sit and what particular symptoms make up their version of ASD. Typically though, ASD involves difficulties with communication, sensory behaviours, repetitive and restricted interests and behaviours.
What are the symptoms of ASD?
As mentioned above, each person with ASD can present differently depending on what particular symptoms they are experiencing and where on the spectrum they sit. The symptoms though can be divided into three areas:
- Communication – People experiencing ASD will often communicate in a different way than those not experiencing ASD and this can be seen through:
- Delays in their development of verbal communication. This can range from only being able to communicate through sound opposed to structured sentences, to just developing language skills at a later age than others. Often speech therapy can assist with this.
- One-sided conversations – they may struggle to speak about things outside of their own interests and it may be difficult to redirect them to other topics.
- Unusual conversation styles – they learn a lot of their language and social cues through television and movies. This means they may often repeat phrases or lines from shows or movies or may even speak in a accent when not appropriate (such as an American accent when they are not American).
- Social development – People experiencing ASD often struggle to make and maintain relationships and this can be due to:
- Difficulty understanding and demonstrating appropriate non-verbal communication. Examples include showing minimal eye contact through conversations or not being able to pick up on some of the cues given out when people are uncomfortable or don’t want to talk (such as turning away with arms crossed).
- Difficulties understanding emotions expressed by others and understanding their own emotions.
- A lack of interest in interacting or playing with others.
- Behaviour – People experiencing ASD can often experience either hypersensitivity (over-sensitive) or hypo-sensitivity (under-sensitive) to their environment. Due to this they may interact with the environment in unusual ways to try and manage their sensitivity such as:
- Repetitive and unusual body movements (e.g. hand flapping).
- Repetitive use of objects (e.g. opening and closing doors repetitively).
- Engaging in objects in a sensory manner (such as smelling things you would not normally smell, rubbing things on their face or skin etc).
- Becoming overwhelmed when provided with a lot of sensory information (such as at a concert, or shopping centre or amusement park).
- Difficulties with particular sounds or textures (such as the dryer or the feeling of towels on skin).
What causes ASD?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes ASD, but they have found that there is some genetic links to ASD. It is important to know that ASD cannot be caused by anything you as the parent have done. It is also important to know that within extensive research, there have been no links found between vaccinations and the development of ASD.
It is important to remember that not everyone experiencing ASD will have the exact symptoms described above and the severity of these symptoms can vary also. ASD can be detected as early as 2 years old or as late and early adulthood depending on the symptoms and their severity. Due to this and the way that ASD works, it is not diagnosed on a single factor. Often a specialist will gather information from you as the parent, they will observe your child personally and will look at a variety of areas of their development.
If you have concerns about your child, it is important that you see a specialist. You may be afraid of “labelling” your child, but without the right assistance, children with ASD can become isolated, struggle educationally and socially, and have difficulty learning to manage their emotions. With an appropriate diagnosis, supports can be put in place at home and at school to assist your child to develop to the best of their ability.