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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the term used to describe a wide range of and differing levels of severity of symptoms of autism. Autism becomes apparent early in a child’s development and is therefore called a developmental disorder. Some professionals think of ASD as three different disorders: autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified). We use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th edition (DSM-5) to diagnose psychological conditions, including ASD. In the latest edition of this manual the three separate disorders have been replaced with a single diagnosis of ASD. The new ASD diagnosis uses a scale to demonstrate how much support people need based on the severity of their symptoms and their level of functioning.

ASD is quite common; some research suggests that one in 160 children are diagnosed with ASD, with boys outnumbering girls four to one. The causes of ASD are unclear; research strongly suggests a genetic basis to ASD, but environmental factors may also play a role in triggering ASD in a genetically prone child. Because ASD includes a wide range of symptoms, children with ASD are diverse. Some children with ASD have intellectual disabilities, some have average intelligence and some are intellectually gifted. Children with ASD may also have varying levels of language abilities, from severe language impairments to advanced language. However, children with ASD generally show similar symptoms of concern in their social communication and development, sensory sensitivities, emotional functioning and interests/behaviours. If you think that your child has ASD, some characteristics that you might observe are that s/he:

Communication/Social development

  • Makes poor eye contact
  • Doesn’t use non-verbal forms of communication (eg. waving, pointing, physically showing, etc.)
  • Doesn’t consistently respond to his/her name
  • Tends to have one-sided conversations (does not tend to have back and forth, reciprocal interactions)
  • Has difficulty picking up social cues or the hidden rules of an engagement
  • Rarely initiates play with other children
  • Finds it challenging to make and maintain friendships
  • Prefers solitary play

Emotional functioning

  • Has difficulty recognising and expressing his/her emotions or needs
  • Has difficulty understanding others’ emotions, thoughts or needs
  • Has difficulty reading facial cues and gestures

Sensory sensitivities

  • Is sensitive to light, sound, touch, taste and/or smell. For example, s/he might:
    • Only wear certain clothing because other clothing bothers him/her
    • Be overwhelmed by loud, unexpected or annoying sounds such as fireworks, lawn mowers or a baby crying
    • Find it difficult to cope in large crowds or with large amounts of background noise
    • Have a very restricted diet (find certain smells or tastes overwhelming; prefer certain textures of food)
    • Focus on or find it difficult to cope with bright lights (eg. sunny days or fluorescent lights)
  • Has unusual sensory interests (eg. likes watching spinning objects or smelling objects)

Restrictive and repetitive behaviours

  • Prefers routine (struggles when changes are unexpectedly made to the routine)
  • Likes predictability (requires preparation for new situations, events or environments)
  • Likes to perform certain tasks in exactly the same way
  • Has unusually intense and focused interests
  • Repeatedly uses objects in a narrow, particular way (eg. lining up toys or switching lights on and off)
  • Repeatedly moves the body in particular ways (eg. hand flapping, spinning, finger twisting, walking on toes, rocking, etc.)

Sometimes children with ASD exhibit challenging behaviours as a result of these symptoms, such as: having uncontrollable emotional outbursts, having temper tantrums, having obsessive interests, being inappropriate in and struggling to have sibling or peer relationships, ‘shutting down’ in situations in which they are uncomfortable, and banging their heads, hitting themselves or biting themselves.

Assessment

Early diagnosis and treatment have been shown to provide the best outcomes for people with ASD. If you believe that your child may have ASD, please visit our ASD assessment page to learn more about how we determine whether or not your child has ASD.

Treatment

If your child has been given a diagnosis of ASD and you are looking for appropriate treatments to help your child, please visit our treatments page to learn more about the ASD interventions that we offer.

Please contact us if you would like to schedule an appointment for an ASD assessment or for ASD intervention (treatment) at HMHK.

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Conditions that commonly occur with ASD

Almost three-quarters of children with ASD have another medical or psychological condition, including (but not limited to): Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Intellectual Disability, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Macro/microcephaly (large/small head), Sleep problems, Tourette Syndrome, Down Syndrome, epilepsy and Fragile X Syndrome.

If you are concerned that your child has multiple concerns and would like us to help, please contact us to schedule an appointment.