Autism Spectrum Disorder
Diagnosing this disorder affecting tens of thousands of people nationwide
April is Autism Awareness Month, which is an excellent opportunity for us to promote acceptance and to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year. Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates one in 59 children in the United States have some form of autism?
What is ASD?
(ASD) is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social communication (eye contact, integration of gestures, or facial expression) social interactions, and repetitive behaviors and/or interests.
Autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome used to be four distinct autism diagnosis, but they are now all included under a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). ASD symptoms and their effects vary from mild to severe. Some people diagnosed with ASD need very little assistance in their daily lives, while others might require more.
What causes ASD?
A specific cause for ASD has not been found. Researchers believe that several factors may contribute to the development of the disorder, namely genetics and environment. However, much has been learned about symptoms and the course of the disorder. Research also suggests that ASD is not caused by vaccinations or child-rearing practices.
How is ASD diagnosed?
An ASD diagnosis is often a two-stage process that involves a developmental screening by a pediatrician during wellness checkups and a referral for formal evaluation of “at-risk” symptoms that were discovered during the developmental screening. Clinicians trained in the disorder, including but not limited to psychologists and speechlanguage pathologists, typically conduct formal ASD evaluations. Children with ASD can be reliably diagnosed by the time they are 2 years old.
The CDC lists the following as signs that could indicate someone has ASD:
• Not responding to their name by 12 months of age
• Not pointing at objects to show interest (like an airplane flying overhead) by 14 months
• Not playing “pretend” games (pretending to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
• Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
• Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings • Having delayed speech and language skills • Repeating words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
• Giving unrelated responses to questions
• Getting upset by minor changes
• Having obsessive interests
• Flapping their hands, rocking their body, or spinning in circles
• Having unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.
Who is affected by ASD?
ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but boys are four times more likely to be identified with ASD than girls. The CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network found that of children identified with ASD, about 85 percent had developmental concerns by age 3, but only 42 percent received a comprehensive developmental evaluation by age 3.
How is ASD treated?
Many treatment options are available for individuals diagnosed with ASD including parent education; developmental treatments, like speech therapy; behavioral treatments, like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy; medicine to treat cooccurring symptoms; and complementary and alternative medicine, like supplements and diet modifications. A combination of treatment approaches is often preferred.
Did you know that LSU Health Shreveport’s School of Allied Health Professionals has an autism specialty clinic that can diagnose children as young as 24 months? The Children’s Center has a team of professionals who have been performing interdisciplinary evaluations, including autism evaluations, since 1982. An interdisciplinary evaluation means that your child has the advantage of being assessed by professionals from the fields of pediatric medicine, psychology, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, social work and education. The Children’s Center works with patients from infancy through the age of 15 from around the Ark-La-Tex. The team provides a variety of services including diagnostic assessments and treatment, supporting and educating families and service providers, and offering technical assistance and connecting with community agencies.
Michelle Yetman, Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor and clinical psychologist at the LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions’ Children’s Center. She received specialized training in the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders at the Center for the Atypical Child and Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. Dr. Yetman is a licensed clinical psychologist who is a member of both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA). For more information about the Children’s Center or if you have questions regarding autism, call 318-813-2960.