What is autism disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.
What are the signs and symptoms of ASD?
The list below gives examples of common types of behaviors in people diagnosed with Autism. Not all people with ASD will have all behaviors, but most will have several of the behaviors listed below.
- Make little or inconsistent eye contact.
- Infrequently sharing interest, emotion or enjoyment of objects or activities (including infrequently pointing at or showing things to others)
- Not responding or being slow to respond to one’s name.
- Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation.
- Displaying facial expressions, movements and gestures that do not match what is being said.
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- Difficulties adjusting behavior to different social situations.
- Becoming upset by slight changes in a routine and having difficulty with transitions.
- Being more sensitive or less sensitive than others to sensory input.
- Having a lasting intense interest in specific topics, such as numbers, details or facts.
How is ASD diagnosed?
Health care providers diagnose ASD by evaluating a person’s behavior and development. ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by the age of 2. It is important to seek an evaluation as soon as possible. The earlier the intervention, the more gains your child can make as their brain continues to grow and mature (age 5). Once your child has been formally evaluated, be sure to consider the recommendations put forth into the evaluation. Contact your child’s school to inform them of the diagnosis and begin the process of creating and individualized education program (IEP), The IEP will mandate that the school provide certain services for your child depending on their needs, such as in-school speech and occupational therapy, or inclusion in a special education classroom.
When seeking services, be sure to consult with a professional first. Services that are often helpful for children with autism include, but are not limited to:
- Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
- Speech Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Behavioral Therapy
- Physical Therapy
- Developmental Therapy
- Social skills group
Response to the Diagnosis
Learning that your child has been diagnosed with autism is a powerful moment in your life. Suddenly your life may feel very different from what you expected it to be. Some common reactions to the diagnosis are listed below:
Shock: Immediately after the diagnosis you may feel stunned. The reality of the diagnosis may be so overwhelming that you may feel confused and unable to accept it.
Sadness or Grief: Many parents mourn some of the hopes and dreams they held for their child before they are able to move on. There will probably be times when you feel extremely sad. It is important to remember that there is a difference between sadness and depression. Depression often stands in the way of moving forward.
Anger: Anger is a natural part of the grieving process, and you may find that its directed at those closeted to you- your child, your spouse, or a close friend. Anger is healthy and natural and at times healthy.
Denial: You may go through periods of refusing to believe this is happening to your child. During this time, you may not be able to hear the facts as they relate to your child. Denial is a way of coping, try not to let it interfere with making good decisions.
Loneliness: You may feel isolated and lonely. These feelings come from a variety of sources when you experience a loss. You may also feel that you don’t want to contact friends or family for support.
The do’s and don’ts after an autism diagnosis
Don’t let the autism diagnosis intimidate you. Do give yourself some time. Do some reading. Ask some questions. Do not jump to conclusions. Do not let all the doctors, therapists and educators intimidate you. One day you will look back on this and wish you could reassure yourself because you’ve got this.
Don’t let the autism diagnosis cause you to feel sorry for yourself. Do count your blessings. In reality there are things so much worse than an autism diagnosis. Look around you. There are people dealing with truly tragic situations. Now roll up your sleeves. Your role as your child’s advocate is going to keep you busy. Things are going to be okay.
Don’t let the autism diagnosis isolate you. Do reach out for help. It is true that some people unfamiliar with autism might stop coming around after the diagnosis. They do not understand the behaviors, meltdowns, the necessity for routine and the jargon we speak. If you find yourself in need of understanding, find a parent who has already walked a few miles in your shoes.