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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior. While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between individuals with autism.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Early signs of this disorder can be noticed by parents/caregivers or pediatricians before a child reaches one year of age. However, symptoms typically become more consistently visible by the time a child is 2 or 3 years old. In some cases, the functional impairment related to autism may be mild and not apparent until the child starts school, after which their deficits may be pronounced when amongst their peers.

Social communication deficits may include1:

· Decreased sharing of interests with others

· Difficulty appreciating their own & others' emotions

· Aversion to maintaining eye contact

· Lack of proficiency with use of non-verbal gestures

· Stilted or scripted speech

· Interpreting abstract ideas literally

· Difficulty making friends or keeping them

Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors may include1:

· Inflexibility of behavior, extreme difficulty coping with change

· Being overly focused on niche subjects to the exclusion of others

· Expecting others to be equally interested in those subjects

· Difficulty tolerating changes in routine and new experiences

· Sensory hypersensitivity, e.g., aversion to loud noises

· Stereotypical movements such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning

· Arranging things, often toys, in a very particular manner

Parent/caregiver/teacher concerns about the child's behavior should lead to a specialized evaluation by a developmental pediatrician, pediatric psychologist, child neurologist and/or a child & adolescent psychiatrist. This evaluation involves interviewing the parent/caregiver, observing, and interacting with the child in a structured manner, and sometimes conducting additional tests to rule out other disorders. In some ambiguous cases, the diagnosis of autism may be deferred, but otherwise an early diagnosis can greatly improve a child's functioning by providing the family early access to supportive resources in the community.

The first step is seeking an evaluation. Most parents start with their pediatrician who is checking on developmental milestones. If your child is under the age of 3

years, you can obtain an evaluation through your local early intervention system. If your child is over the age of 3, you can get an evaluation through your local school (even if your child does not go there). Contact your local school's preschool special education team to request an evaluation.

American Psychiatric Association (2024, January 1). What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Retrieved January 8, 2024, from

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