Autism spectrum disorder is a continuum on which an individual is placed when he or she cannot function in social situations to such a degree that daily life is impaired. This condition is usually diagnosed in early childhood (12-24 months of age) but can be diagnosed at any time. Recently I saw an individual who was diagnosed for the first time when they were over the age of 35. The cause of ASD is unclear but more is being learned. There is strong scientific findings that environmental variables such as toxins and other things typically thought to be harmful to infants and children like being born to older parents and lower birth rate may be contributors. There are no hard conclusions just theories.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 ((DSM-5- rocked the world by introducing many spectrums of disorders. In its attempt to group like disorders together to step away from staunch medical models and to look at more progressive treatment approaches it did away with many separate diagnoses. Individuals with ASD will have a large degree of functioning based on personality, level of support given, and tools learned. They are placed on the continuum instead of being given one of the diagnosis that would have been given if the DSM-IV-TR was used. Yes, all the following are now placed on the ASD.
• Infantile autism
• Childhood autism
• Kanner’s autism
• High-functioning autism
• Atypical autism
• Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified
• Asperger’s disorder
ASD is diagnosed on four different criterions; 1.) persistent impairment in the ability to participate in reciprocal social communication and interaction 2.) restrictive and repetitive behavior 3.) the symptoms need to be present from early childhood 4.) there is significant impairment in tasks of daily living. The level of support needed for appropriate functioning is noted for each of the areas listed. The clinician doing the diagnosing also needs to note the possible contributing factors if known despite this not being able to be known to a degree to scientific assuredness. I am thinking this may be due to if information is learned about possible treatment based on causes later it will be easier to give the treatment to the right clients. The clinician should be sure that the client does not have Rett syndrome, a language disorder and social communication disorder, stereotypic movement disorder, ADHD, or any other disorder that may impact social interaction. It should also be noted if an individual has impairments in intellectual or language or has Catania. Catatonia is the presence of tending to take a posture and stay in it for a long period of time.
Enough about the problem. There is hope. There is no medicine. You cannot get a prescription and have a person’s ASD disappear. There are medications that can help with the symptoms as well as there are behavioral and other nonmedical interventions that one can obtain support from to learn how to work through the difficulties associated with ASD. The underlying problem is individuals on the spectrum cannot have the social relationships they want and this hinders them from experiencing the joys of life.
Suggestions that may be helpful for loved ones or support people who are working with children or adults on the spectrum to help with each of the three areas that can be addressed are:
o Persistent impairment in the ability to have reciprocal social communication and interaction
o Social coaches that teach skills using games and structured lessons
o Patience with ASD individuals and explaining how you feel when they exhibit symptoms. In my experience I have found they understand and feel with me. I also should listen to how they feel.
o Relax. If you are upset or anxious interacting with them it will lessen your time together. Sometimes you can create a difficult situation where there is none.
o Restrictive and repetitive behavior. This includes being unable to vary from routines as well as rocking and/or flapping of limbs.
o Remind the person of the importance to use other coping skills if they are anxious.
o Stick to certain routines when possible. Some routines such as bed time or morning routines should be followed by all people anyways. Even adults may have a difficult time with change and should be supported appropriately.
o Allow the person space to calm down. Usually symptoms of repetitive behavior occur when a person is anxious or uncomfortable. If reminding the person of appropriate social behavior does not work allowing him or her space to self-soothe may be helpful.
o Symptoms impact quality of daily functioning.
o Each area of life may require different levels and types of support. Plan for it.
o Make transition times a part of the activities. There is often a time needed to make the move between each activity. Planning for this may reduce frustration all the way around.
o Look for strengths. Everyone has strengths and they can be used to approach those areas that need development.
Finally, I encourage everyone to breathe, laugh, and love. Life is too long to go through it holding your breath and waiting for things to get better. Lift your head up and go through it as it is doing your best and inspiring the loved one who may be the reason for reading the post to do the same. ASD may not be forever but it is now so handle it. You can do it!
Thank you for your time.