Around 1 in 100 Aussies have Autism. Today, autism is one of the most widely-known developmental disorders. Yet, people rarely understand what the condition actually is. So, in today’s article, we will discuss what autism is and what it isn’t.

What is Autism and How is it Diagnosed?

Autism is not a single disorder but a spectrum of disorders. It is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disease that affects people’s behaviour and interactions with others. Autism is a condition that spans a wide range of symptoms. There are three levels of severity: mild, moderate, and severe.

Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) symptoms normally occur before a kid reaches the age of two. Autism can be diagnosed at any age between 12 and 18 months. However commonly, the diagnosis occurs around the age of two. Early diagnosis can help in identifying and treating the condition early.

For the longest time, there was no consistent standard to diagnose Autism. Usually, doctors from multiple departments needed to evaluate the kid to reach a diagnosis. These included specialists and professionals like a pediatrician, a psychologist, a speech pathologist, and, on rare occasions, a psychiatrist, evaluating and assessing the youngster.

These experts would evaluate a youngster at the same time and in the same location. Alternatively, they might conduct individual assessments over a period of time in several locations. And later, all of then would come together and share their diagnosis and debate their findings.

However, to standardize the process, the Australian government launched The National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The guideline establishes a new diagnostic standard as well as clinical best practices. Its goal is to make the process of screening and diagnosing autism more clear and consistent across the country. This ensures that the people with autism and their families get the best treatment possible.

What are the Early Signs of Autism?

Unusual social and communicative behaviour are early indications of autism. Autistic children usually demonstrate confined interests and repetitive actions. The symptoms can vary from individual to individual, hence the term, “spectrum”. Sometimes, the symptoms can change over time. For example, with time, a child might stop all verbal communication or a symptom can present itself differently at different ages.

In the first two years of your child’s life, keenly observe their social and communicational development. Children who lie within the Autism Spectrum might show some of the following signs:

Difficulty in Communication

  • At this age, children usually make eye contact. However, if your child is autistic, they might not be able to maintain eye contact when they want to get your attention.
  • Autistic children might not be able to point to or hold up things to bring your attention to them.
  • They might not always respond when you call their name
  • These children can have difficulty using gestures like waving or clapping on their own
  • Autistic children may not always smile at you or other familiar faces
  • They don’t always imitate other’s actions like other children their age
  • They can also have difficulties understanding simple instructions

Difficulty in Relationships and play

  • Young children with autism usually don’t show much interest in other children
  • They rarely initiate games or do pretend-play

Behavioural Symptoms

Young children who are on the Autism spectrum exhibit repetitive and restricted interests.

  • At times, they can get stuck on a particular object or toy
  • Their interactions with objects can be limited
  • They might want to do a particular activity repetitively and get upset if they don’t get to do it
  • Autistic children can focus narrowly on something
  • They can also have an intense need to follow a routine and may get easily upset with the slightest change
  • Some autistic children might also have unusual bodily movements like hand-flapping, walking on tip-toes and so on. They can also feel the need to keep repeating a certain movement.
  • Autistic children can be extremely sensitive to certain sensory stimuli like a sound or colour or texture
  • Some might also seek sensations. For example, they might want to rub an object on their lips or face  and so on

If your child exhibits some of the above symptoms, you should talk with your GP or pediatrician.

Symptoms of Autism
Symptoms of Autism

Is there any difference in Autism Characteristics in Boys and Girls?

Boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism than girls. However, recent studies have shown that this isn’t necessarily because more boys are autistic than girls. Rather, the reason is the difference in symptoms in boys and girls which results in a lot of autistic girls remaining undiagnosed. Studies also show that females can mask their symptoms better than males. As a result, they are often not diagnosed.

Following are certain characteristics that might be more common in Autistic girls with high or average IQ as compared to Autistic boys with the same IQ.

  • Autistic girls might be more aware of the need to interact socially
  • Sometimes, people might perceive a passive autistic girl as just shy
  • Autistic girls can imitate others in social interactions to mask their symptoms
  • They might also be able to develop a close friendship which isn’t the case with autistic boys
  • Compared to autistic boys, girls with autism use more age-appropriate language
  • Girls on the spectrum might also have a more developed imagination compared to the boys
  • And their restricted interests are more focused on movement, or people or animals rather than objects.

All the above differences might make it harder for clinicians to identify autism in young girls.

What is the Cause of Autism?

There isn’t any single cause of Autism because it isn’t a single condition but a spectrum of neurodivergent behaviours which exhibit some similarity. However, the same factor might not be responsible for all behaviours. However, studies have shown that genetics play an important role in autism.

What can Parents do to Support Children with Autism Spectrum?

Therapy for children on the autism spectrum offers a significant chance to enhance growth, reduce impairment, and maximise each child’s strengths and possibilities throughout time. These therapies are usually non-pharmacological. The therapists design them to advance developmental skills like speech therapy, etc.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and many children might need life-long support. At Providence Healthcare, we offer therapeutic support to children and adults with developmental disorders. If you are looking for a therapist or any other NDIS service for your autistic child, you can contact us.