According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviour (CDC). As of March 2019, 1 in 46 children ages 6 to 18 in British Columbia have been identified as having ASD. In Canada, ASD is 4.5 times more commonly diagnosed in boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189).
It is often primary caregivers who first notice behaviours consistent with ASD in their child. For example, when the child does not meet typical developmental milestones.
While signs of autism typically develop gradually, some children will reach developmental milestones at a normal pace and then regress.
There are some social, behavioural and sensory characteristics that are consistent with ASD. Knowing what to look for can assist with early, accurate diagnosis and intervention. If you recognize persistent social communication, or social interaction deficits; repeated behaviours or restricted interests; and/or unusual responses to sensations in your child, it is possible that he or she may have autism.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE AUTISM?
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it affects each individual differently. There is, however, some behaviour that is relatively consistent with an autism diagnosis. Please note this is not a checklist, however, if you recognize some of these signs in your child you may want to consider seeking a professional opinion.
- Speech may be absent or delayed
- Poor use or understanding of gestures, such as pointing and eye contact
- Difficulty with abstract concepts and pronouns. For example the child may reverse pronouns, saying “you” instead of “I”
- Language may be unusual or repetitive (echolalia)
- May take part in selective hearing, i.e., may act deaf when being spoken to but alert to other sounds
- Conversations may be difficult for them to initiate and/or sustain
- Make-believe is limited or absent
DELAYS IN SOCIAL INTERACTION:
- Social cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures are difficult for them to use and/or understand.
- Relationships with peers are difficult to develop or maintain; child may appear to prefer being alone.
- Sharing interest during interactions by pointing or nodding may be absent or delayed.
- Behaviours may be done repetitively, or the child may remain preoccupied with one activity for a prolonged period of time, such as hand flapping or rocking (self-stimulating behaviour).
- Routines and rituals may be rigidly followed. Individuals with ASD are often averse to change, and struggle with transitions, preferring set routines and familiar surroundings.
- Attachment or preoccupation with objects or part of objects.
- The smell, touch, taste, sound or sight of certain things may cause exaggerated response.
- Self-injurious behaviours, or an inattention to pain may be present.
- Temper-tantrums may occur without warning.
- Certain sensations may cause exaggerated (hyper) or muted (hypo) reaction.
- May appear upset by certain sounds, foods, or being touched.
- May show a visual fascination with lights or movement.
Early diagnosis can result in early intervention. Scientifically validated forms of treatment, like Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), can improve a child’s chances of achieving the most developmental gains and reaching their full potential. To find a team of service providers to support someone with autism, you can access the Registry of Autism Service Providers (RASP). It is a great resource to help you find individuals who are skilled and experienced in the field of autism, such as Behaviour Consultants, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists. Parents of children under 6 need to choose from this list in order to access MCFD funding.
Despite stereotyped behaviours, some high-functioning individuals with ASD can go undiagnosed until later in life when the demands of school or work reveal skill deficits.
Evidence-based treatments like ABA have also been shown to provide significant improvements in the condition of older children, youth and adults with ASD. AutismBC co-hosts an ABA Summer Camp for children on the spectrum. Click here.
If you are in the Lower Mainland and interested in learning more about Autism, feel free to visit our Library! We have accumulated a very thorough and updated catalogue of books and other resources that can help you learn more about Autism and other related topics.