Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder, often manifested in early childhood, characterized by impaired communication and social interactions, and repetitive and/or restrictive behaviors. Autism is one of the most frequent childhood disorders affecting approximately 1 in 68 children, with boys affected almost five times more frequently than girls.

The cause of autism is poorly understood with many researchers believing autism may be a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Experts believe that diagnosis can be established when a child is approximately 18 months of age, unfortunately, many children are not diagnosed until they are 4 years or older, limiting the opportunity for behavior modifying therapy early in life.While individuals ASD often exhibit similar characteristics, the full manifestation severity of these characteristics varies from individual to individual.

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Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder

Under current diagnostic standards (DSM-5) children with a diagnosis of ASD must meet the following criteria:

1. Social and communication deficits (All 3 criteria must be met):

  • Difficulty reciprocating social or emotional interaction.
  • Difficulty maintaining age-appropriate relationships.
  • Difficulty with non-verbal communication.

2.  Restricted interests/repetitive behaviors (at least 2 behaviors must be exhibited)

  • Repetitive speech, actions or use of objects.
  • Excessive adherence to routines, verbal or non-verbal behavioral patterns or resistance to change.
  • Intense and restrictive interests.
  • Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.

3.  Characteristics must be present in early childhood, even  if not exhibited until a later age

4.  Combined characteristics limit and impair daily living

How can a child with autism be helped?

Several recent studies have reported improved developmental outcomes associated with early intervention therapies for children with autism. Based on these studies, early identification of children at risk of autism is essential because it allows for earlier intervention. Identifying methods to detect autism in children when they are much younger may make it possible to provide interventional care much earlier. New genetic tools are now available which assist in the identification of the risk of autism spectrum disorders in children.