What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a range of disorders characterized by significant communication problems, sensory problems, and social difficulties. As a result of these symptoms, ASD can impact a person’s ability to communicate and function in everyday life.

ASD can manifest as emotional and behavioral symptoms – especially challenges with appropriate social interaction. For example, individuals and children with ASD may struggle with reading facial expressions, making eye contact, relating to peers, and making friends. Children with ASD may reject affection, engage in repetitive actions, and use odd gestures to indicate their needs or emotions. ASD may also manifest physically as motions like hand-flapping and walking on toes. Extreme reactions to sensory stimuli are also indicative of ASD.

It is important to understand that ASD is a spectrum – it is a range of symptoms that vary in severity. In other words, each person affected by ASD will exhibit their symptoms differently. The term “ASD”  now includes a host of disorders that at one time were classified as distinct disorders and are no longer used in diagnoses. These include high-functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorders not-otherwise-specified. Now, ASD is categorized by levels of severity. The three levels that clinicians apply to ASD diagnoses are simply Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

Level 1: Individuals with ASD Level 1 are considered high-functioning, as this level is milder than the others on the Autism Spectrum. These individuals need little support in their everyday lives. They still struggle with communication and social interactions, but they can function independently in the world.

Level 2: At this level, individuals have difficulty engaging in conversation. They may answer others inappropriately and only speak about topics that interest them. This level of ASD also manifests itself in nonverbal behavior, such as facing away during conversation and the avoidance of eye contact. Changes in routine can cause individuals with ASD Level 2 extreme anxiety and distress.

Level 3: This is the most severe of all the levels of ASD. Those diagnosed with ASD Level 3 require significant support in their everyday lives, especially because their speech may be difficult to understand. Children and adults affected by ASD Level 3 may initiate very few social interactions if any, and engage in highly repetitive behaviors. Also, when routines are changed, it causes these individuals great distress and anxiety.

A diagnosis of ASD is most appropriate at the age of two or older. Early diagnosis is critical – the earlier that treatment and therapy can begin, the higher the chances become of the child learning strategies that will allow them to live a more independent life. Furthermore, while there is no cure for ASD, there are many treatments that have shown to be effective in helping children live with the difficulties that accompany ASD. These include Applied Behavioral Analysis, occupational and physical therapies, speech therapy, and some medicines. Altogether, ASD can impact almost every aspect of an individual’s life, but it is important to remember that early diagnosis and intervention can be key in helping children learn and live with the disorder.

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