What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects about 1 out of 44 individuals worldwide. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of diagnosing autism has doubled from the year 2000 till 2022. Many parents and professionals find this increase in autism alarming, and others understand that there has been an increase in awareness; thus, the rate of diagnoses has increased. Another factor to consider is that individuals with lower needs are being diagnosed, too - whereas, in the past, individuals with classical autism were mainly diagnosed.
What do autistic individuals usually struggle with?
The main criteria for an official diagnosis of autism include:
A communication difficulty: this can include struggling to communicate verbally or maintain conversations with others.
Behavioral difficulties: this could include frustration from individuals struggling to communicate or self-harm behaviors in specific individuals.
Social interaction difficulties: autistic individuals sometimes struggle to initiate and maintain friendships or interact “socially appropriately” in social situations.
Sensory dysregulation: individuals might be hyper- or hyposensisitive to certain sensory stimuli. This could mean certain sounds, smells, sights, textures, and tastes are aversive to the autistic individual.
What can I do if I suspect my child is autistic?
As a parent, you know your child best. You know when they are missing milestones and seem to struggle to cope. When you notice your child is struggling, speak to your pediatrician. Take data with you to show them the reason for your concern or the behaviors you tracked. With Tracto, you can track your child’s behaviors, anxiety, mood, and other activities to ensure the data you provide your doctor is accurate and reflects what you have seen and observed in your child over a period of time.
Remember, just because a condition is “lifelong” doesn’t mean there isn’t support for you and your child. You are here, going through the information and educating yourself, and you are already setting your child and family up for success.
What to look out for
If your child is still young (under 5 years), you should note the following signs:
if your child is avoiding eye contact
if your child is not responding to their name
if your child gets extremely upset with specific sensory input - like certain smells, tastes, or sounds.
if your child is not participating in pretend play or playing with other children, in general
if your child engages in repetitive movements, like flapping, flicking, or rocking certain body parts
if your child doesn’t reciprocate a smile or talk as much as other children
if your child repeats certain words or phrases
if your child seems to struggle with forming sounds or words
if your child tends not to notice dangerous situations
If your child is older (5+years) and you notice some of the following, it should be noted to your pediatrician:
if your child struggles with stating their emotions or how they feel
if your child struggles to understand what others are thinking or feeling
if your child likes a strict routine and struggles to be flexible with any changes
if your child repeats specific phrases or engages in some unusual speech patterns (speaking “at” people)
if your child takes things very literally and struggles with abstract phrases or metaphors
if your child is extremely interested in certain topics, to the point that it might be seen as a hyper-fixated interest
if your child seems to struggle to make friends or understand certain social nuances
Although these signs could indicate that a pediatrician should assess your child, it doesn’t mean that your child is on the autism spectrum should they engage in some of these behaviors. As parents, you are the true advocates for your child, especially in the early years, and it makes a difference if we know where our child struggles. Once we determine these areas, we can better offer support to help them cope and manage their daily lives.
Therapy Options for Autism
There are many different types of support available for children diagnosed with autism. The support ranges from comprehensive behavioral programs to occupational therapy and speech therapy. We suggest parents navigate through the recommended and suggested list of resources intuitively. If you receive a diagnosis for your child, take some time to determine what that means to your child and your entire family. Understanding the diagnosis and coming to terms with the implication might take some time.
Once you feel ready to start therapy for your child, take a step back and look at your child and their specific needs. They might struggle with certain concepts more than others, which is a good starting point to offer and provide support. If your child seems frustrated and struggles to communicate their needs, it could be best to speak to a speech and occupational therapist. Find support for you as a parent too. It is important to know that there are other parents on this journey and that you are not alone.
Some professionals might recommend a comprehensive behavioral approach, and this is, again, up to you, as the parent, to decide if this is required or needed for your child. Not all children thrive or require a 40hrs per week behavioral intervention program. Some children might need social support and occupational therapy focusing on building and maintaining friendships through shared interests.
You are the true expert on your child and their needs - trust your intuition and speak with other parents on this journey. There is no “one size fits all” approach for any child, and definitely not for yours.