Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition which means it is a neurological difficulty that affects how the brain relates to certain areas. It is a broad term that includes Autism and Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD_NOS). As a wide spectrum of need, it includes children with varying degrees of difficulties and varying areas of ability.
I often say to parents that no two children with ASD are the same. They will have their unique profile of strengths and difficulties. However, there are certain areas that may be common in this population that lead to a diagnosis.
Areas of difficulty with ASD
People with an ASD have difficulties in two main areas:
- Social communication and interaction
- Restricted and repetitive behaviours
These difficulties could present in the following ways:
- Lack of desire to communicate at all
- Communicating needs only
- Disordered or delayed language
- Poor non-verbal communication (including eye contact, gesture, expression, body language)
- Good language but with no social awareness
- Unable to start or keep up a conversation
- Having a pedantic (narrow focus) language that is very literal and shows poor or no understanding of idioms (e.g. “pulling your leg”) and jokes
- Using toys as objects; for example, fiddling with the wheels on a car rather than pushing it along the ground
- An inability to play or write imaginatively
- Resisting change; for example, crying hysterically if taken to school via a different route or becoming upset if something is arranged differently
The above are just some of the examples of the types of behaviours that you may see in your child with ASD. But it is important to note that children will engage in the above behaviours for various reasons unrelated to ASD.
Diagnosis of ASD
Your child can be diagnosed at any age, from about the toddler years all the way to adulthood. There are plenty of people who also receive a diagnosis later in life. Typically for younger toddlers, unless obvious, we would tend to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to allow the maximum amount of time for brain development and provide as clear a picture as possible. Up until age five, a lot is happening in relation to brain development. So neurodevelopmental conditions, including ASD, ADHD, and Learning Disabilities, can be harder to pinpoint at this stage in some – but not all – cases.
What to do if you are concerned about ASD for your child
The first step you should take is seek the support and advice of your GP. They can identify what support is needed and what local public services are available. They can also help you to rule out any other assessment that may be needed, like medical reviews.
What to expect during assessment for ASD
Assessment for ASD will cover many areas to obtain as much information as possible. The assessment will normally be carried out by a psychologist and some other team members, like a speech therapist or an occupational therapist, if required. They will:
- Complete an interview with parents and carers, including childcare/school staff around history and current functioning.
- Ask parents/carers/teachers to complete some standardised forms to assess functioning at home and in school.
- Assess the child’s learning using some games and puzzles.
The tool most widely used for ASD assessment would be the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 2nd Edition (ADOS 2). The ADOS 2 is a fun assessment for children to complete involving lots of games, toys and generally involves the examiner just observing play and interacting but not pushing or causing distress to the child at all.
Following this, parents are talked through the results and provided with a report of their child’s needs and diagnosis (if relevant).
Post diagnosis of ASD
There is often support in place locally, such as individual therapy for parents and children with ASD and support groups for parents. It can be incredibly important to attend a support group for parents. Having parent friends who understand you as a parent and understand the needs of your child can be very helpful. You may also experience a range of emotions following a diagnosis, from grief, loss and anger to hope for the future now that you have a road map to follow.
If you wish to find out more about ASD, check out the online programme on my Bloss page. The online instant access programme provides parents with expert information on understanding Autism, thinking about the needs of your child with ASD. It also helps parents find ways to support them in areas such as social interaction, communication and behaviour.
I am also available for one to one consultation if you have concerns – book a consultation.
Or ask me a question about your child.