An overview of Autism

Autism is a developmental disability. Children with autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD, have social, communication and language difficulties. They also have restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities, such as flipping objects, echolalia, or excessive smelling or touching of objects. Autism may be mild or severe. All children with autism don’t display the exact same difficulties, but tend to have some of the following social and communication behaviours:

Social Skills

Children with autism may struggle to connect with others socially, as they tend to be in their own world. It may be hard for them to:

  • share a common focus with another person about the same object or event-known as joint attention;
  • play with others and share toys;
  • understand feelings;
  • make and keep friends.

Communication Skills

Children with autism typically have trouble with communication skills like understanding, conversing with others, reading or writing. Sometimes, they even lose words or other skills that they used before. These children may have problems

  • understanding and using gestures, like pointing, waving, or showing objects to others;
  • following directions;
  • understanding and using words;
  • having conversations;
  • learning to read or write. Sometimes they are able to read early, but without any understanding – this is called hyperlexia.

These children may also:

  • repeat words just heard or words heard days or weeks earlier-called echolalia (pronounced ek-o-lay-le-a);
  • talk with little expression or use a sing-song voice;
  • use tantrums to tell you what they do or do not want.

Common Behaviours

A child with autism may:

  • have trouble changing from one activity to the next;
  • flap hands, rock, spin or stare;
  • get upset by certain sounds;
  • like only a few foods;
  • have limited and unusual interests-for example, talk about only one topic or keep staring at one toy.

How is autism diagnosed?

If you suspect any form of autism, it is important to have your child evaluated by professionals who are experts on the topic of autism. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), typically as part of a team, may diagnose autism. The team might include pediatricians, neurologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and developmental specialists, among others. SLPs play a key role because problems with social skills and communication are often the first symptoms of autism. SLPs should be consulted early in the evaluation process. There are a number of tests and observational checklists available to evaluate children with developmental problems. The most important information, however, comes from parents and caregivers who know the child best and can tell the SLP and others all about the child’s behaviour.

What is Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder?

Problems with social uses of language may be a social communication disorder, sometimes called a pragmatic language disorder. All children with autism have social communication problems. Children with other disorders may also display social communication problems. Sometimes a child just has a social communication disorder, in which case they may also have other language disorders. These may include problems with vocabulary, grammar, reading, or writing.

A social communication disorder may lead to problems in behaviour. Children may be frustrated because of their communication problems, as they may not be able to share their wants or needs. Children who have social communication problems without restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities may be diagnosed as having a Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder rather than an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

What treatments are available for people with autism?

There is no known cure for autism. In some cases, medications and dietary restrictions may help control symptoms. Intervention should begin when the child is young. Early intervention and preschool programs are very important. An evaluation by an SLP should be completed to determine social skill, communication, language, and behaviour needs. An appropriate treatment plan that meets the needs of the child and family can then be established. Treatment may include any combination of traditional speech and language approaches, augmentative and alternative communication, and behavioural interventions. It is also be important to have the child’s hearing evaluated to rule out hearing loss.

What causes autism?

Autism is a lifelong problem with a number of possible causes, including but not limited to:

  • genetic problems or syndromes;
  • severe infections that affect the brain (meningitis, celiac disease, encephalitis, etc.);
  • exposure to toxins or illness during pregnancy (rubella, chemicals, etc.).

Every day presents new challenges for most of us. For those living with autism, every moment can be a challenge. So, if we can help you in any way to achieve little victories in the process, please don’t hesitate to call on us. On the way to absolute health and wellness, one often has to stop and ask for a little guidance. We are always happy to oblige.