Autism 101: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder
The team at Aspire Child and Family Services specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but we also understand that finding appropriate support can be difficult, especially for families who are dealing with an autism diagnosis for the first time. We hope anyone searching for answers on ASD can find them here in our Autism 101 guide.
Whether you’re a parent who suspects your child may have autism, or if you’re a parent of a child who has been newly diagnosed, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that has been offered to you. Hopefully, this resource can help answer some common questions from parents and provide guidance on the autism screening and autism diagnosis processes.
Types of Autism
Autism manifests uniquely in every individual. For this reason, it is difficult to label specific types of ASD. Until recently, autism was considered a separate diagnosis from Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and an unspecified form of pervasive developmental disorder. Now each of these former diagnoses fall within the autism spectrum.
What is the Autism Spectrum?
The autism spectrum represents the wide range of challenges and strengths that individuals with ASD possess. Autism affects everyone differently, and a spectrum ensures that everyone dealing with the disorder is included. The autism spectrum accounts for a wide range of strengths and needs and groups them by severity. If you have specific questions beyond the scope of this Autism 101 guide, you are always encouraged to contact us directly.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the severity of autism spectrum disorder is described in 3 levels:
- Autism Level 1: Individuals with level 1 ASD need the least amount of support, but they may still struggle with social interactions or certain self-help skills that are crucial for living independently.
- Autism Level 2: People diagnosed with level 2 ASD may have a tougher time with communication than people meeting level 1 criteria, and it is often more difficult to mask atypical behaviors. People with level 2 can also have a harder time transitioning from one activity to another, and they are more likely to engage in stimming, or self-stimulation behaviors.
- Autism Level 3: Someone diagnosed with level 3 ASD is more likely to face significant communication challenges, and they often prefer isolated or parallel play over social interaction. Interactions may be heavily scripted, and the individual often struggles with self-expression.
The levels of autism spectrum disorder were not designed to create labels for individuals with a diagnosis, but to help the experts find an appropriate starting point for treatment.
Autism is a spectrum disorder with varying levels of severity, so there is not a single way of identifying it. Each person with an autism diagnosis has their own experiences. Those with a more severe case typically have a tougher time concealing their symptoms, but each individual with ASD may be dealing with a different set of symptoms.
Scientists are still working to uncover a specific cause for autism spectrum disorder, but there is research that suggests ASD could be caused by multiple factors. Both genetic and environmental factors could have an impact. Aspire believes in evidence-based solutions to account for any new discoveries uncovered by research.
Genetics of Autism
While we cannot confirm that genetics are the sole cause of autism, genetic research has been a useful tool for learning about autism. Most cases are categorized as “idiopathic,” meaning the cause is unknown, but cases of “secondary” autism include a chromosome abnormality, genetic disorder or environmental agent that can be identified as a cause. There is more information specific to the genetics of autism available through the National Human Genome Research Institute.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
Since autism is such a complex condition, it requires a detailed process to diagnose it accurately. If you are still learning the basics of Autism 101 or seeking services for the first time, you may be skipping a step in the diagnostic process. Before a diagnosis can be made, your child will need to undergo autism screening. Autism screening can be conducted in several settings too. Your child’s pediatrician can help you take the first steps and begin the screening process. People commonly mistake positive autism screening results for a formal diagnosis. There is, however, a clear difference between autism screening and diagnosis.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Therapies
We learn about autism spectrum disorder to improve the lives of those diagnosed with it. Because it is based on research and learning, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy fits our philosophy perfectly. Aspire Child and Family Services uses ABA therapy, because we believe it is best for addressing each client’s unique needs.
Autism Screening Tools
If you’ve decided to go ahead with autism screening, here are some resources that can help you prepare.
- CDC fact sheet on developmental monitoring and screening
M-CHAT(Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers)
ASQ(Ages and Stages Questionnaire)
STAT™(Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers & Young Children)
PEDs-R Test (Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status - Revised)
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