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May 17, 2017 | Family Medicine • Women and Children's Center
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and participate in social interactions. It can also include repetition in behaviors, interests and activities, and can lead to major impairment in social and occupational functions, among others.
ASD is defined as a single disorder, containing several disorders that were once separate—autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and others. Symptoms vary greatly along the autism spectrum and often becomes noticeable at a young age. There is no single known cause, though genetics and environmental factors may play a role.
For both people with ASD and their families, the diagnosis and adjustment process can be difficult. Here are some things to know about ASD and coping as a family.
If your doctor notices initial signs of developmental delays during normal checkups, they’ll likely refer you to a specialist to check for ASD. Because of how widely ASD symptoms and behaviors vary, there is no standard test used for diagnosis—the specialist might do a few things:
For a positive diagnosis of ASD, a child must meet symptom criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association. There are two primary areas here:
With the right treatment and support, children with ASD can still flourish and grow. The right treatment varies for every child, and the goal is to match potential and specific needs with strategies likely to help them in these areas. A few areas to look at include:
In all ASD cases, your specialist will work closely with you to determine the right unique treatment for your child.
Every member of the family can be affected by a child’s ASD diagnosis. Managing stress is important, as is getting appropriate sleep and nutrition. Helping siblings understand what’s happening and deal with their own related stress levels will get everyone on the same page. Most siblings cope well and can be a real help in managing ASD.
Long-term planning for a loved one with autism includes a care plan that’s backed by a sound legal and financial foundation. This special needs estate plan is for situations in the future where you might not be able to assume a caregiver responsibility. Items that should be addressed in a special needs estate plan include:
If your child is showing signs of autism, or if you need any assistance or information on diagnosis or adjusting to life with ASD, speak to your doctor to get specific instructions dealing with your child’s condition.
“Autism spectrum disorder.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021148
“Living with Autism.” Autism Society. http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/
“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.