Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) are both names for a group of complex 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 disorder.

The use of the term ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ was formalized in 2013 with the publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.  With this update, a variety of autistic disorders were merged under one umbrella term: autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.  Individuals with one of these disorders are often said to be “on the Spectrum.”

What are the Signs of Autism?

Each case of autism is unique, but there are some signs commonly seen across the board:

  • No speech or delayed speech
  • Echolalia (repetition of words or phrases)
  • Loss of previously acquired speech
  • Lack of social skills/desire to interact with others
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not responding to name
  • Trouble with transitions
  • Temper tantrums
  • Repetitive behaviors (hand flapping, spinning in circles, rocking back and forth)
  • No use of gestures to show interest (i.e. pointing,
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds, lights, textures
  • Obsessive interests
  • Low safety or danger awareness
  • No imaginary play (i.e. lines up toy cars instead of playing with them)
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Extremely picky eating habits
  • Unusual sleeping habits
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Delay in motor skills

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 being 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 (CDC) 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 areas of genetic and environmental analysis that explain many disorders and diseases.  Despite these advancements, definitive answers are still elusive for many conditions, including autism.  However, there are some factors that have been linked with autism even if they aren’t strictly “causes”:

  • A genetic predisposition to autism – there are a number of rare gene conditions (mutations) that seem to be associated with autism. Some of these may be sufficient to result in autism, but many others are merely associated with autism. The research is still in a very early stage in this field, and scientists are still trying to piece together the puzzle.
  • 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 illnesses during pregnancy
    • A lack of folic acid may be associated with higher risk of autism in a child.

All of these are scientific theories, hypotheses, 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 focus on the treatment of autism rather than its cause.

For more information on the high-risk factors associated with ASD, check here.

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 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.

These 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.
  • Clinical supervisors and therapists (BCBAs and RBTs) who are highly-trained and consistent.  Children on the Spectrum benefit from a strong continuity of care, so professionals with practical experience and a dedication to the field are essential. 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 specific developmental delays.  Some children on the Autism Spectrum are non-verbal and need to develop ways to communicate.  Others are very verbal, and their main delays are in repetitive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, or social skills.  Every child is unique, and a BCBA must thoroughly 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 ensure the 8 hours of our in-clinic training is consistent with the child’s home life.  When we learn what works to help a child’s development here at our ABA therapy center, we share those techniques with the parents so they can implement them in the other 16 hours a day 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 success.