Could Your Child Have Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The hit television series “The Good Doctor” has helped bring autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the public eye. The main character is a positive role model, but he also deals with the challenges of living with ASD. Have you ever suspected that your child might be on the spectrum? It can be difficult to spot because it has a wide variety of looks. There is a common expression that says, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” This is why it is referred to as a spectrum disorder.
In the past, there were multiple diagnoses given for disorders associated with autism. In 2013, they were all combined into one diagnosis referred to as autism spectrum disorder. Approximately one in 43 children is affected by autism. Like all children, each child with ASD has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. There are, however, some common symptoms that are shared by individuals on the spectrum. All experience some problems with social interaction and communication. They will also experience some difficulties with empathy and the capacity to be flexible.
If you visit with therapists, doctors and teachers, you may hear a number of terms being used. You might hear about high-functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome, atypical autism, pervasive developmental disorder and more. People will use these terms interchangeably, and even incorrectly. It is important for parents to understand that the terms are unimportant. Parents will need to focus on their child’s specific needs, regardless of where their child falls on the spectrum. It is also important for parents to realize that having some of these symptoms doesn’t mean that their child has ASD. Multiple symptoms must be present, and they must interfere with the child’s ability to communicate, form relationships, learn and play.
A child who falls on the spectrum will have some difficulties with social interaction. You might notice that the child shows a lack of interest in other people and prefers to play alone. They may appear detached and aloof. You may also notice a lack of empathy from these children. They have trouble understanding other people’s feelings and nonverbal cues. These symptoms can lead to difficulties making friends. Parents may also notice that the child has an adverse reaction to being touched or difficulty making eye contact.
Speech and language problems are also common with children on the spectrum. Parents might recognize that their child didn’t learn to talk as early as others. They may speak with unusual patterns or tones. It might be difficult for a child with ASD to start a conversation. Children on the spectrum may not understand humor, sarcasm and irony, as they commonly take things literally.
Other behaviors frequently associated with ASD include negative responses to certain sounds or textures. Parents may notice that children can’t tolerate the feel of certain fabrics or the tags inside clothing. Children on the spectrum often have odd ways of moving. They may appear clumsy or seem to exhibit an odd posture. Parents might notice that these children get unusually upset at changes in their environments or schedules.
There are a number of ways that parents can support their children with ASD at home. Most importantly, be aware of your child’s specific challenges. As mentioned earlier, most children on the spectrum do best with a routine. Parents should provide a stricter schedule for these children than they might for children who are not on the spectrum. If there is going to be a change to the daily routine, it is important to discuss this with the child before it occurs.
Individuals on the spectrum often have trouble following directions. Parents will want to provide directions in as few words as possible. The child may respond with a blank stare because it takes longer for children with ASD to process information. If this occurs, repeat your instructions. If you attempt to reword the directions, this may make matters worse, because the child will need to begin processing all over again.
Parents also may find that they must explicitly teach very basic social skills. There are therapists in Tulsa that provide social skills classes for children. Children on the spectrum may need to be taught how to take turns, wait in line and play with other children. Because they often lack rudimentary social skills, children on the spectrum may also say things which others perceive as mean or rude.
If you suspect that your child may be on the autism spectrum, you should discuss this with your child’s physician. You will want to identify your child’s particular issues and address them specifically at home. Organizations such as TARC Tulsa (www.ddavocacy.net) can help answer questions, help with Individual Education Plan (IEP) and resources. Other resources include autismtulsa.org and www.autismspeaks.org. You may also want to hire a child therapist with expertise in this field and consider enrolling the child in a class that teaches social skills. It may be beneficial to provide a diagnosis to your child’s school as well. He or she may qualify for an (IEP) based on this diagnosis. Accommodations and modifications may be valuable to your child’s academic success. Even if your child is high functioning, and not in need of an IEP, it would be useful for the teacher to gain some understanding about your child early in the year.