Recently, Jerry Seinfeld told NBC Nightly News that he believes he’s on the autism spectrum. This has left many parents of autistic children up in arms. Even though you have read about something doesn’t mean you have it. Or, does it? What does it mean to be on the autism spectrum?
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has four major characteristics:
1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction
2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities
3. Symptoms are typically recognized in the first 2 years of life
4. Symptoms cause impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning
Spectrum is defined as a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children can have. Children with ASD differ in the symptoms shown, which places them either higher or lower on the spectrum. While the exact cause of ASD is not known research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its diagnosis.
Signs & Symptoms of ASD
Although the signs and symptoms of ASD vary from child to child, they fall within two areas:
• Social impairment
• Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors
Parents are generally the ones who pick up on the signs and symptoms first and then usually bring it to the attention of their child’s pediatrician. Typically, children with ASD do not follow the usual pattern when developing social and communication skills.
Noticing these behaviors can occur as early as within the first year of life or as late as the third year. Babies with ASD become overly focused on certain objects, fail to engage in play or babbling with parents, and rarely make eye contact. Children who exhibit symptoms by the third year tend to lose interest in activities and may also experience loss of development, which is referred to as regression.
Social interaction is important for children of all ages, but, to those with ASD, it’s more difficult. Children with ASD may respond unusually when someone else shows anger or affection, make little eye contact, and tend to listen less to people around them.
Research also suggests that children with ASD do not respond to emotional cues because they may not pay attention. For example, children with ASD may focus on the mouth of the person speaking to them instead of the eyes. Furthermore, children with ASD tend to focus more on repetitive movements linked to sound, such as clapping.
These children often experience difficulty discerning another’s tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal communications. Likewise, it can be difficult for others to understand the body language of children with ASD.
Typically, by the time a child is a year old, he/she can say one to two words, acknowledge when someone calls his/her name, and point to what they want. However, children with ASD may:
• Fail or be slow to respond when his/her name is called
• Fail or be slow to develop gestures, such as pointing
• Develop language at a delayed pace
• Learn to communicate using pictures or their own sign language
• Speak only in single words to repeat certain phrases over and over
All of these will most certainly lead to difficulties communicating with others in day-to-day life. As a result of a failure to recognize gestures and other nonverbal cues, children with ASD will find it difficult to participate in conversations. They can talk at length about their favorite activity while not pausing to allow the other party to speak.
Repetitive and Stereotyped Behaviors
Children with ASD often have repetitive movements or unusual behaviors, which can be extreme and very noticeable or mild and discreet. For instance, some children may walk in specific patterns while others may move their fingers by their eyes. These repetitive movements are sometimes referred to as “stereotypy” or “stereotyped behaviors.”
Children with ASD may also become fascinated with moving objects, such as wheels on cars. They often spend a long time lining up their toys in a certain way and become extremely upset if someone moves one of their toys.
As a result of such repetitive motions, children with ASD thrive in a structured environment with a strict routine. Even the smallest change in their routine can cause distress, which can cause emotional outbursts.
A two-step process is used to diagnose autism spectrum disorder. The first step includes general development screening during well-baby checkups with your child’s pediatrician. Children who show some developmental concerns are often referred to a specialist for further evaluation. The second step involves a thorough evaluation by a team of specialists. It is during this step that your child may be diagnosed as having ASD or another developmental disorder.
Children with ASD are often diagnosed by age 2, but evidence suggests that screening tests can be beneficial at 18 months and even younger. It’s important to remember that the sooner your child is diagnosed, the sooner the proper treatment can be administered.
If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, don’t delay in seeking treatment. Not only will it help your child, it will help you as well.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff is trained in Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacology in New York, and can help you move beyond the frequent frustrations or limitations that may be caused by autism spectrum disorder. If you are looking for more information on ASD please feel free to contact us via email. To schedule a consultation, please contact our office at 917-609-4990..