by: Alex Raymond, BCaBA
At its core, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) usually includes deficits in the areas of social skills, language and communication, and the presence of repetitive or restricted behavior(s). However, the exact characteristics of ASD will be different in every child you may meet with a diagnosis. The impact of ASD can be mild or pervasive, and some kids may only have deficits in one area but be very skilled in the other domains. Puzzle piece ribbons (displayed on the left) are often used to celebrate the diversity of individuals with ASD, and represent the need for us all to come together – like the pieces of a puzzle – to support these members of our community.
For some families with a child on the spectrum, it means their son or daughter has a hard time focusing in school. For another family, it means their child needs substantial help with nearly every aspect of day-to-day life and often endangers themselves if left alone. For others, it means their child has difficulty making friends and relating to others but is otherwise developing normally.
Below are some commonly observed behaviors in individuals with Autism:
• Impoverished, weak, or absent language
• Intense emotional reactions, meltdowns
• Follows rigid routines or rituals – must “have their way.” Some examples may be shutting a door several times when exiting a room, sitting in the same seat while riding in a car, or taking the exact same route home from school.
• Has a very difficult time transitioning between activities
• Repetitive behavior, such as rocking back and forth repeatedly, flapping their hands, etc.
• Seems unaware or only mildly interested in the behavior of others
• May have difficulty learning new skills, and exhibits difficulty retaining learned behavior
• Doesn’t make eye contact or look at the faces of others
• Finds certain sensations particularly aversive, such as certain noises, textures, colors, etc.
Over time, the diagnostic labels professionals apply to affected individuals have evolved and changed. For instance, Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a provided diagnosis. These changes have no doubt contributed somewhat to murkiness of the term as professionals and parents become acquainted with new diagnostic labels.
As technology and basic science have progressed, professionals are now able to better detect other mental health or physiological illnesses. For this reason, it is important to consider having your child screened for other medical issues and consult an experienced psychologist if you suspect your child may fall on the spectrum. Underlying medical issues should be treated before beginning behavioral services for the best outcomes.
The Florida Autism Center uses the principles of Behavior Analysis – the science of learning and behavior – to help families meet specific goals with their children such as tolerating changes in routine, learning to eat new foods, or learning to speak and communicate. There is a tremendous quantity of research supporting the use of behavioral science in helping individuals with ASD learn to become more independent and even discontinue therapy services altogether. If you suspect that your child may have Autism, please reach out to us and we can connect you to professionals in the area capable of providing an evaluation.