Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) are both names for group of complex and important brain development disorders.  Those with Autism or ASD have difficulties in social interactions, nonverbal and verbal communication, and can engage in repetitive and/or self-injurious behaviors.

Diagnoses of Autism or ASD are on the rise, now affecting 1 in 68 Americans, with a greater prevalence in males.  The causes of autism aren’t precisely understood, but both genetic and environmental factors are thought to be associated with the presentation of this disorder.

The use of the Autism Spectrum Disorder / ASD term was formalized in 2013 with the publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.  A variety of autistic disorders were merged into one label.  Individual disorders had included autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.  All of these now are put under the label of ASD, and those with one of these disorder will often be said to be “on the Spectrum”.

How Common is Autism?

Tens of millions of individuals worldwide are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Recent data indicates that at least 3 million Americans are “on the Spectrum”.  At least 10x as many children are now considered to have ASD than 40 years ago, with increased publicity, awareness, and diagnosis only part of the reason.

Boys are significantly more at risk of developing ASD than girls – between 4 to 5 times as likely.  Centers for Disease Control data indicates that 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with ASD.

Concerned about your child’s development?  Screen your child online in less than 10 minutes with our M-CHAT tool and receive immediate results.

What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Science is advancing rapidly in many fields, including in the areas of genetic and environmental analysis that explain many disorders and diseases.  However, definitive answers are still elusive for many conditions, including autism.  However, there are some factors that seem to have some association with autism, even if they aren’t strictly “causes”:

  • A genetic predisposition to autism – there are a number of rare gene changes (mutations) that seem to be associated with autism; some of these seem to be sufficient to result in autism, but many others are merely associated with autism; the research is still very early stage in this field, and we aren’t experts on this.
  • Certain environmental (non-genetic) factors appear to increase the risk of child developing autism.  These factors involve things before and after birth
    • Advanced parental age at conception (both mom and dad age)
    • Certain difficulties during birth, especially oxygen deprivation
    • Certain maternal illness during pregnancy
    • A lack of folic acid may be associated with higher risk of autism in a child.

All of these are scientific theories, hypothesis, or results of early research.  Like many fast-evolving areas of science, today’s theories may be discarded and replaced with new theories or research tomorrow.  At Action Behavior Centers we aren’t experts at the causes of autism, and even the experts say that it’s too complex and difficult a topic to give any specific answers in the vast majority of cases.

What Treatment Works?

While the causes of autism are still a mystery, research about treatment for autism or therapy for autism has developed some good, clear results.  Hundreds of research studies over more than 30 years have examined the “who, what, when, and how” of different therapies for autism.

We are very pleased that the work we do at Action Behavior Centers is validated by this research – our staff have been trained at leading schools that teach the therapy that works best:  Applied Behavior Analysis.  Our program has been built to incorporate the best practices from research studies, and we are happy to share with you the “why” of what we do.

Here are the things that work to help many children overcome the challenges associated with autism:

  • Therapeutic applied behavior analysis (ABA) for 40 hours per week.  This is a “full-time ABA program”.  Research is extremely clear on this – the more hours a child receives, the better the results in overcoming developmental delays.
  • Therapists (BCBAs and RBTs) that are highly-trained and consistent.  This means using professionals that make ABA therapy their careers, and have education and practical experience working with children.  At Action Behavior Centers, we are unique amongst Autism ABA therapy centers in hiring all full-time, salaried employees.  Consistency in the therapist is an important factor in the success of an ABA program, and we really focus on this with our team and our clients.
  • A well-defined program that is established to address a child’s main developmental delays.  Some children on the Autism Spectrum are non-verbal, and they need to develop ways to communicate.  Some are very verbal, and their main delays are in repetitive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, or social skills.  Every child is unique, and a BCBA will need to assess a child before developing a program to address these deficits.
  • Parents are an essential part of any therapy program, and need to be an active part of the treatment process.  Parent training is a core part of what we do at Action Behavior Centers.  We want the 8 hours of training we do in-clinic to be consistent with the child’s home life.  When we learn something that works to help a child in their development here at our ABA therapy center, we want to share it with the parents so they can implement it in the other 16 hours a day they are with their child!  We see parents as part of our treatment team, and value their active participation in the efforts towards helping their child reach their highest potential.