Are you in the process of getting a diagnosis or have some questions about autism spectrum disorder? Here are the most frequently asked questions from parents around the world.
1. What is Autism?
Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a life-long condition (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). People with ASD often experience difficulties with communication, social interaction and restricted/repetitive interests and behaviours (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). While there is no single known cause associated with autism, the numbers of children diagnosed has steadily increased over the years (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
However, the thing is, there is no one way that autism can affect a person. Every individual on the autism spectrum will present differently. There is a saying, “if you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism.”
2. What is ASD?
ASD is the acronym for ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’. This umbrella term includes autistic disorder (also known as “classic autism”), Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (also known as “atypical autism”) according to the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) issued in 1992 (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
The DSM was published by the American Psychiatric Association and serves as the primary manual used by clinicians in the U.S., Australia, and many other countries to provide the formal criteria for various diagnoses, including autism (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
3. What are the causes?
Currently, there is no single known cause for autism, however, recent research has identified strong genetic links (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). We do know though that autism is NOT caused by an individual’s upbringing, their social or economic circumstances, nor is it caused by vaccines or bad parenting!
4. What are evidence-based therapies?
Evidence-based therapy means that there has been some conclusive research to prove the effects of a therapy on its potential users (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). Whilst many treatments claim to have evidence proving they work, in many cases, there has actually been no extensive top level research done (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
At Rockmelon, our content is completely evidence-based. All content has been developed with the help of a team of clinicians, parents and experts in the autism field from around the world.
5. How common is autism?
Recent studies have found that 1 in 59 children have an ASD diagnosis (Centers for Disease Control, 2018) Autism is around 4.5 times more common in boys than girls, however around 1 in 189 girls have an ASD diagnosis (Centers for Disease Control, 2018).
About 150 children are diagnosed with ASD every hour (Centers for Disease Control, 2018). Recent studies have also shown that the number of children diagnosed with ASD has also increased over the years with no single known cause (Centers for Disease Control, 2018).
6. I suspect my child has autism, what should I do next?
If you suspect your child has autism and you do not have a diagnosis yet, don’t wait! Start early intervention. We at Rockmelon believe that as a parent, you know your child best. If you think your child may have a delay or you are in the process of getting a diagnosis there is no harm in getting started early. It is the ‘early’ in early intervention that makes all the difference.
If it turns out that your child doesn’t have a developmental delay, many of the skills Rockmelon promotes are applicable to neurotypical children as well.
7. How is autism diagnosed?
“Most people find the diagnosis process quite confronting. It’s not much fun having someone point out all the things that your child can’t do, things that typical children just pick up naturally. But think of this assessment as a benchmark, against which you can measure your child’s progress once they start in an intervention program.”
– Seana Smith, mother of four and co-author, Australian autism handbook
If you suspect that your child has a developmental delay it is vital to get a full assessment and diagnosis from a qualified and reliable professional or team of professionals using proper assessment tools (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
While the diagnostic criteria for autism under the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are consistent, the requirements of who can formally make a diagnosis can differ from country to country (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
For instance, some countries require that a child be diagnosed by a multi-disciplinary panel, while other countries allow a single specialist (e.g. developmental paediatrician) to make the diagnosis on their own (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). In each country, different states might also have different requirements.
8. What therapies are available for ASD?
There are a number of different therapies available to help assist a child with autism reach their fullest potential.
If you are new to the world of autism, you might find yourself floating in a pool of different therapy terms – from occupational therapy to speech pathology, to speech and language therapy to cognitive behaviour therapy. You might also be thinking, which are the ones that your child will need? What if they don’t work? The other thing to note is that something that worked for another family, may not necessarily be of the same benefit for your child.
9. How can I help my child with autism?
If you suspect your child may have a developmental delay, the best thing you can do is start investigating as soon as possible (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018).
If you think your child may have a delay or you are in the process of getting a diagnosis there is no harm in getting started early. It is the ‘early’ in early intervention that makes all the difference.
Rockmelon CONNECT+LEARN has been designed to help parents who have a child with additional needs. Children with autism can learn, it is just a matter of teaching a little differently. Rockmelon CONNECT+LEARN provides you with all the necessary tools and information parents need to help deliver better outcomes for their children.
10. What are the early signs of autism?
Some of the common traits associated with autism are difficulties with communication, social interaction, restricted/repetitive interests and behaviours, behavioural challenges and sensory issues (Autism Awareness Australia, 2018). One child might display all of these, another might display one or two, and another might display none at all. Often, one of the first things parents report noticing is a lack of communication skills. These early signs can present differently in every single child.
Remember, some children are just late to talk and it doesn’t immediately mean they have autism. If you are concerned that your child may have a developmental delay, the best thing you can do is get in contact with your family doctor or paediatrician. Don’t wait for a diagnosis to start working with your child to develop some of the skills they may need help with.
11. What age do children usually start to show signs of autism?
The most common age for parents to first become concerned about autism is around 15-18 months, usually because their toddler’s speech isn’t developing. Children may have speech delay, however, and not have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s problems with nonverbal social communication that are the real pointers to autism.
For example, young children with ASD don’t usually:
Some of these signs may be visible before twelve months of age, but if a child sits, crawls, and walks on time they can be easily missed by parents. There are children on the autism spectrum who are highly verbal and as pre-schoolers may even have precocious speech. In this situation it’s even easier for their autism to be missed.
Their problems may not become obvious until they attend school and social difficulties — such as trouble making friends and acting out in class — start to affect their progress and self-esteem.
12. What age can a child be tested for autism?
There are scientifically validated tests, such as the M-CHAT, that can be used to screen for autism in children as young as 15-18 months. Screening tests, however, are not a diagnosis and will pick up some children who don’t go on to have ASD. What screening tests do is point to social problems that should be investigated by a health professional, such as a paediatrician or child psychologist.
For some children with ASD, a diagnosis can be reliably made at the age of two years by an experienced professional, although a more common age for diagnosis is around 3-5 years.
The earlier a child receives a diagnosis the better, as it means they can start on early intervention to help address their social and behavioural challenges.
13. Is early intervention necessary in mild cases of autism?
Early intervention is recommended for all children with an autism spectrum disorder.
A ‘mild’ case of autism in early childhood can lead to major problems once a child reaches their school and teenage years. Symptoms such as inflexibility and ‘social blindness’ can lead to run ins with teachers and isolation and bullying from peers. Young people on the spectrum are much more likely than their classmates to suffer from anxiety and depression as a result. If a child’s challenges can be targeted early, we are offering them a better chance of negotiating their school years with success.
In fact, research evidence shows that children with milder symptoms respond best to early intervention, with these benefits sustained in the long-term.
14. How early can you start treatment for autism?
The simple answer is as early as possible. Treatment can commence before a child receives an official diagnosis if autism is strongly suspected.
In early childhood, the brain is more ‘plastic’ or able to be changed than at older ages, offering the greatest potential for long-term change.
There are now play-based early intervention programs for ASD, such as the Early Start Denver Model, that target toddlers as young as 18 months. Studies show improvements in learning and language as well as reduced symptoms of autism, with these benefits maintained when the children were followed-up two years later.
There is research to suggest children progress faster when treatment commences before the age of four, but all young people with ASD, no matter what age, can benefit from science-based interventions.
15. Is autism a condition that affects only males?
Autism spectrum disorder is more common in males, along with a number of other developmental disorders, such as ADHD and learning disabilities.
Overall, statistics show that ASD is about 4 times more common among boys than girls. That said, ASD often escapes detection in girls and young women. Girls appear to be more skilled at masking their symptoms, copying the behaviour of friends and classmates and finding ways to fit in. Unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of severe anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon for girls with ASD not to receive a diagnosis until they reach adulthood. With better recognition of autism in females, there may come a time when the male to female ratio moves closer to 2 or 3 to 1.
16. Does autism often occur with other disorders?
Yes, autism often occurs alongside other conditions, including intellectual disability, seizure disorder (epilepsy), language delay, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behaviour disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, as well as anxiety and genetic disorders such as Fragile X and Down Syndrome.
Sometimes these other conditions will have a greater impact on a child’s ability to function at school and home than the autism itself.
Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently occur together. A child with ASD and an intellectual disability will have problems with thinking, memory and learning and take longer to learn new skills and behaviours than a child without this diagnosis. With the right support, however, all children can learn.
17. What is the difference between autism and learning disabilities?
Autism and learning disabilities can occur together, however autism spectrum disorder is not a learning disability.
Learning disabilities, also referred to as specific learning disorders, are usually identified once a child is in school and are more commonly associated with ADHD (which also can co-occur with autism). They refer to serious and ongoing problems in one of three areas — reading, writing and mathematics. A well-known learning disorder is dyslexia, which affects reading and spelling and often runs in families.
While not all children with ASD will be diagnosed with a specific learning disorder, it’s not uncommon for even very bright children with ASD to have an uneven pattern of skills, where they are gifted at maths but struggle with reading or writing, or vice versa.