Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism is one the most common childhood disorder, considered a developmental disorder caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that manifests with difficulties in social interaction, reduced ability to create and sustain relationships, repetitive and restricted movements and rigid mental thinking.
Autism is often diagnosed during early childhood, generally by the age of two, although an individual can be diagnosed with autism at any age.
Symptoms generally develop gradually, and research has shown that children who are provided with the proper help tend to have a better outcome and are able to have a greater amount of independence in adulthood.
What is Autism and what are the causes?
Autism is not singularly symptomatic, generally, an Individual with Autism will present with a group of traits that create difficulties in multiple levels of development. Those who suffer from autism have trouble with social interactions, present with repetitive behaviors, and may have communication (or speech) problems.
Parents start noticing early signs during the first 12 ~ 16 months of the child's life. Based on the severity, signs of autism may develop slowly or appear more rapidly; it is important to remember that early diagnosis is linked to greater success in life, especially during teenage years and adulthood. Children with autism tend to delay reaching their developmental milestones and if proper care is not provided by a licensed specialist, the autistic child may retreat farther away from social contact and the presenting deficits may become worse with each passing year.
According to current medical and scientific research, it is still unknown what exactly causes autism, the most current theory supports the notion that a combination of factors such as genetics, environmental and emotional elements may intertwine to cause the condition. Contemporary research has also linked risks of autism to specific viral infection during pregnancy, such as rubella, alcohol, and the use of drugs (ex. cocaine). There are also some controversies about the administration of vaccines and the propensity to develop autism.
Research shows that Autism tends to affect how the brain works, specifically how the brain processes and communicates information between nerve cells (neurons). The specificity of this process is still unknown but some gene mutation has been observed in children with Autism.
What are the symptoms?
Because Autism is a complex condition it is important to be aware that only a comprehensive evaluation can accurately identify the possibility of an Autism disorder in children and adults. Often the symptoms are not severe enough to generate concerns in parents and this can result in the condition remaining untreated for a very long time, especially in cases of Asperger's syndrome.
Early signs may appear by 18 ~ 24 months. Most common signs include failure to sustain eye contact during breastfeeding, no babbling or pointing to objects (by 12 months), no (single) words by the age of 16 months (ex. mama, dada, ...), loss of social skills (once known) at any age. Autism is slowly becoming a global concern.
In 2016 only a small percentage of parents in the United States considered screening their children for Autism, while in Japan all children are screened at 18 months and then again at 24 months. In most European countries children are screened regularly (possibly because of free healthcare).
How is Autism diagnosed?
There are multiple methods used for diagnosing autism in children and adults. The diagnostic methods are tailored specifically to fit the individual overall functioning abilities of the child/adult: Elements that are evaluated include language development, capacity to differentiate between colors and shapes, ability to understand sounds and words, ability to sustain attention, motor-coordination, and social skills.
The diagnosis targets the neuro-behavioral patterns and the socio-communication skills. Specific diagnostic tests that are used include the ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview- revised Edition), the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), the CARS (Childhood Autism Rating Scale), the SRS (Social Rating Scale) and others that are focused on language and motor skill abilities.
If an Autism diagnosis is being considered, proper care and intervention are planned in conjunction with the pediatrician and eventually a child-psychiatrist. Neuro-psychological tests are often administered to complete the psychological evaluation and to provide a broad yet specific diagnosis when co-morbidity (multiple issues) appear to be present (eg. learning disabilities).
Neuro-psychological tests tend to focus on specific areas of the brain, triggering targeted areas. This can also rule out other conditions (eg. Landau-Kleffner syndrome).
Can Autism be cured?
Most parents are overcome with fear when they hear that their child is Autistic or has Asperger's Syndrome, prompting the question: is there a cure? Studies on mice in 2017 have shown that when a specific protein was blocked it reduced or eliminated autistic symptoms. Multiple studies are now moving in this direction, however, as of today, there is no direct cure for Autism. Nonetheless, because its phenomenology (eg. behavioral, neuro-cognitive) it can be treated with a multitude of different methods.
Famous people who have been diagnosed with Autism or Asperger have in fact been able to lead successful lives (eg. Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, Nikola Tesla, Mozart and many more).
How do i screen my child? How much does it cost?
We provide screening and comprehensive evaluation for Autism, along with behavioral counseling and parental coaching when appropriate at our offices in Pasadena and Huntington Beach.
Since most insurance companies cover pediatric diagnosis and treatments (we are in-network with most insurance plans) your child's evaluation may be covered at 100% of the cost. After we meet we verify with your insurance if there is any cost associated with the evaluation, then we inform you of your insurance benefits. If you decide to proceed you have a clear knowledge of the cost before the assessment starts.
What is the difference between Asperger Syndrome and Autism?
When a child shows specific symptoms, such as impairment in social interactions and repetitive behavior but does not meet all the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism the likely neuro-psychological condition is of a syndrome rather than a defined disorder.
This syndrome is characterized by the absence of delays in language (speech), cognition (thinking) and adaptive skills (ex. getting dressed alone) during the first three years of life, as it is the case for autism. The Asperger Syndrome is no longer considered a diagnosable illness due to the tremendous variables that need to be considered, and since 2010 is considered part of the Autism Spectrum family. The Asperger Syndrome cannot be defined only based on a single behavior but must be included as a possibility of the developmental history of the person, whether young or adult.
In some children Autism (or Asperger Disorder) can be masked by their personality or their strength in other domains such is the case of a toddler with precocious language onset, or fixation masked as interest such as numbers giving the impression of an early ability to compute math. It is only when children are immersed in social context that it becomes more apparent because it requires a level of engagement that outweighs their capacity.
People with Autism, particularly those who have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome tend to have more difficulty to interpret social awareness, and are a greater risk of mood disorders (eg. depression).