What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

autism counseling

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Because Dr. Brie Turns (specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder) has recently joined Family Christian Counseling Center, I thought it would be helpful to share 1) part of her dissertation concerning what ASD is and 2) a short summary of the risk factors from the National Institute of Mental Health.

What is ASD?

“Considered to be the most severe childhood behavioral disability autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder currently affecting 1 out of 68 children. Individuals with ASD display deficits including: communication and social interaction, and repetitive, restricted interests or patterns of behavior. The wide spectrum of symptom severity levels used in diagnosis consist of Level 1, ‘Requiring support’, Level 2, ‘Requiring substantial support,’ and Level 3, ‘Requiring very substantial support’. These levels indicate various behaviors that can be displayed in diagnosed individuals.

Deficits in social interaction will vary depending on the person’s age, intellectual capability, and language ability. Impairments may be displayed by limited social and communication interactions with others, a lack of shared emotion or verbal communication, or an inability to decipher forms of communication, such as irony or humor. Repetitive, restricted interests or patterns of behavior can be displayed by self-stimulatory behavior, such as hand-flapping, repetitive speech, or excessive adherence to routine. Although parents begin to notice behavior impairments around the child’s first birthday, most children are diagnosed around four years of age.”

Asperger’s and ASD

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the NIH, states that in the past, Asperger’s syndrome and Autistic Disorder were separate disorders. They used to be listed as subcategories within the diagnosis of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders.” However, this separation has changed. The latest edition of the manual from the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), does not highlight subcategories of a larger disorder. The manual includes the range of characteristics and severity within one category. People whose symptoms were previously diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome or Autistic Disorder are now included as part of the category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Risk Factors

The NIMH reports that scientists do not know the exact causes of ASD, but research suggests that genes and environment play important roles. Some of the the risk factors that have been associated with ASD are:

  • Gender—boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls
  • Having a sibling with ASD
  • Having older parents (a mother who was 35 or older, and/or a father who was 40 or older when the baby was born)
  • Genetics—about 20% of children with ASD also have certain genetic conditions. Those conditions include Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis among others.

In recent years, the number of children identified with ASD has increased. Experts disagree about whether this shows a true increase in ASD since the guidelines for diagnosis have changed in recent years as well. Also, many more parents and doctors now know about the disorder, so parents are more likely to have their children screened, and more doctors are able to properly diagnose ASD, even in adulthood.

Part of the mission of the Center is to help all children, the addition of Dr. Turns has added a very valuable specialty that expands that mission. If you have a child that has been diagnosed with ASD, Dr. Turns heart is to help the entire family.

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