Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that typically affects a child’s social interaction and communication. Children with ASD tend to have narrow interests, repetitive behaviours, and may have sensory sensitivity eg. they get upset by certain sounds.
When the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) was released in 2013, Autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and Pervasive Developmental disorder not otherwise specified were simplified to a single diagnosis of ASD.
ASD is a spectrum disorder with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. As such, a diagnosis of ASD includes a severity rating (level 1, 2 or 3) to reflect how much support a child needs.
ASD is usually diagnosed after 2 years of age, but it is common for children with ASD to show signs earlier than this. A diagnosis requires a team of health professionals (paediatrician, psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist) who make an assessment based on how a child plays and interacts with others, their history of behaviour and development, and interviews with parents.
A diagnosis of ASD can sometimes be delayed, particularly if your child only displays mild symptoms. As parents, you know your child best, so if you suspect your child might have ASD, speak with your doctor. An early diagnosis means early help and support.
EARLY SIGNS OF ASD
looks away when you speak to them
does not return your smile
lack of interest in other children
often seems to be in their own world
lack of ability to imitate simple motor movements eg. clapping hands
prefers to play alone
doesn’t play ‘Peek-a-Boo’
doesn’t play pretend eg. feed teddy
Communication (language delay)
not responding to their name by 12 months
not pointing to indicate wants by 12 months
loss of words previously used
unusual language pattern e.g. says the same thing over and over, copies what others say
doesn’t understand simple instructions
has intense interests or attachments eg. will only play with a particular toy
plays with toys or objects in a very particular way eg. repetitive spinning or lining up
has difficulty coping with change – gest distressed with slight changes in routine
has unusual body movements eg. hand flapping, spinning or walking on tiptoes
extremely sensitive to sensory experiences eg. distressed by certain sounds, or will eat only foods with a certain texture
seeks sensory stimulation eg. rubs objects on their face, seeks vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutters her fingers to the side of their eyes to watch the light flicker
uses peripheral vision to look at objects
While a diagnosis of ASD can at first be devastating, there are many interventions, programs and support networks available today to help children and families manage the day-to-day hurdles. Each parent's experience with ASD is different. And though there is often fear, uncertainty and self-doubt, parents also describe a sense of relief that comes with a diagnosis, along with a feeling of hope for the future.
NOTE: The information provided is a basic introduction to ASD. ASD affects social interaction, communication and behaviour. If your child also has problems in other areas of development eg. motor skills, this may indicate a global developmental delay. Either way, you should speak with your doctor.
Related Children's Books
This picture book explains autism in simple terms. It explores how children with autism might feel and suggest ways for other children to consider this child's feelings. This book is written largely from the child's perspective and is a great way to build children's self-esteem.