Autism Spectrum Disorder, also commonly known as ASD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that involves a combination of symptoms of deficits in social communication and social interaction as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities that shows up in many environments or contexts (home, childcare, school, social relationships, etc.).
According to the DSM 5—the manual used for guiding mental health professionals’ decisions regarding mental health diagnoses—symptoms of social communication and/or social interaction deficits can include:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity (I.e. difficulty approaching social situations, or failure to respond to social interaction)
- Deficits in nonverbal communication behaviors used for social interaction (I.e. limited eye-contact, or speaking too loud or soft for the context)
- Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships (I.e. difficulty in making friends or completely lacking friendships).
Examples of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior interests or activities can include:
- Repetitive movements, use of objects or speech (I.e. lining up toys or repeating words or phrases)
- Rigidity or inflexibility in adherence to routines (I.e. extreme reaction to small changes in routine, or difficulty with transitions)
- Special interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (I.e. a focus on a particular topic or toy that is not age-appropriate), and
- Altered sensory reactions that are not age-appropriate (I.e. indifference to pain or temperature, or overreactions to sound or touch)
The above symptoms are not an all-inclusive list as other examples of social and communication deficits or patterns of restricted, repetitive behavior can be found along the spectrum of this diagnosis.
ASD can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are not concrete and definitive; they exist along a spectrum of severity. A diagnosis of ASD is often provided based upon the opinion of the professional(s) interpreting the information. Because of this, it is imperative that if you are concerned that your child might have Autism, you seek out the right professional(s) to assess your child to ensure a thorough evaluation and conclusion of the results.
The first step may be to talk with your child’s medical provider. Sharing your concerns will allow your medical provider to indicate if your concerns are valid and warrant a referral for an Autism evaluation, or if your concerns are age-appropriate behaviors that do not warrant any additional services.
An ASD diagnosis should be arrived upon by a team of professionals who understand the complexities of the disorder. In the Sioux Falls area, we recommend that children who show signs of Autism be evaluated at any of the following locations:
Sanford Developmental Pediatrics
LifeScape Autism & Child Development Center
USD Center for Disabilities: Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic
Early diagnosis and treatment is very important for children diagnosed with Autism. It is highly recommended that children who receive an Autism diagnosis begin supportive therapies for the symptoms or deficits that are identified in the evaluation process.
Treatments or therapies for Autism can include:
- Occupational therapy/Sensory Integration Therapy
- Medication management
- Speech therapy
- Educational supports
- Behavioral therapy
- Family therapy & supports
Some children may only need one therapeutic support, while others may require multiple supports to help with daily functioning. Each child’s needs are unique. If your child receives an Autism diagnosis, it is very likely that you will receive a list of recommended therapies or services to help your child individually, as well as to support you and your family.
Treatment of Autism at Encompass Mental Health
At Encompass Mental Health, our Autism therapist utilizes play-based techniques to help children with Autism develop skills for social interaction and communication and to manage the symptoms of Autism. Treatment for Autism does not focus on eliminating the signs and symptoms of Autism—as this is an unrealistic expectation for a child with an ASD diagnosis—but instead focuses on helping children to better manage symptoms in order to function to their highest level—at home, school and in relationships.
If you have concerns that your child may have Autism and you do not know where to start to support your child, or you have received an official Autism diagnosis and are ready to get your child started in therapy right away, learn more about Ashley Woodley, Encompass Mental Health’s Autism therapist.