What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

By Matt Wiseman
Executive Director
South Pinellas Autism Project

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 68 children born today. Among boys, the number is 1 in 42.1

ASD is a developmental disorder that presents with impaired social function and impaired communication (both verbal and non-verbal, both receptive and expressive).

ASD affects information processing. People diagnosed with ASD display impairments in how their brain’s nerve cells and synapses connect and organize.

When tested, some people with ASD will display cognitive impairments. Among people with ASD, 6-14 percent have a specific cognitive impairment that can be connected to genetics, injury or some other medical condition. The next 29 percent present with what can appear as cognitive impairment; but because of language and social deficits, cognition cannot be measured accurately.

About 16 percent have average cognition (IQ 85-100), while as many as 41 percent have above-average cognition (IQ 100+).2 At least 8 percent of people with ASD test with IQs greater than 130,3 which means the average person with ASD has a higher IQ than the average person in the general population; and the rate of “genius” (IQ above 130) is found four times more frequently among people with ASD (8 percent) than among the general population (two percent).

People with ASD also have restricted and repetitive behaviors. For instance, kids with ASD may be obsessed with trains, Legos, stacking blocks or spinning tops. Many kids with ASD will have Resistance Behaviors, where they will not follow a parent or caregiver’s instruction, and they will often refuse to comply. Additionally, Bolting and Wandering are central concerns for parents and caregivers.

Sometimes the Resistance Behaviors, will escalate to violence — hitting, kicking, biting, falling to the ground or other self-injurious behavior.

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Resistance Behavior

Resistance Behavior Video — Click here to comment or ask about Resistance Behavior:

Sensory Issues

Many people with ASD also have sensory issues. They are deeply affected by noise, touch, taste, smell, temperature, texture — and the movement of people or animals in their environment. Even the design, decor or styling of a room can affect a person with ASD. Noises like the subtle clicking of a ceiling fan or the hum of fluorescent lights can cause distress for a person with ASD. Modern induction cooktops emit sound that adults do not generally hear, but kids do. If you plan to upgrade to an induction cooktop, do some testing with your child at the store. They hear things we do not.

Sensory Overload | Too Much Information — Click here to comment or ask about Sensory Overload | Too Much Information:

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of ASD often develop gradually. Parents may notice signs before the age of 2; however, some children may develop normally, then suddenly regress. A lack of language by age three is a definite sign you should get your child evaluated for ASD. To learn more early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, click here

Toddler with ASD Video — Click here to comment or ask about Early Signs of Autism:

Stimming and Meltdowns

Two of the hallmarks of children diagnosed with ASD are “Stimming” and “Meltdowns.”

To learn more about Stimming, visit http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Stimming. You can also watch this video. Click here for questions and comments on Stimming.

To learn more about Meltdowns visit http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Rage_cycle.  You can also watch this video. Click here to comment or ask questions on Meltdowns.

What Causes Autism?

No one knows what causes Autism. For a time, some parents and a handful of scientists asserted it was caused by childhood vaccines, but this assertion has been thoroughly debunked; and the doctor who authored the study has had his medical license revoked. The medical journal that published his study retracted it; and professionals who do research and treatment in the field are working hard to correct the damage done by this one bogus study that gained support in pop culture.

While there is no link between autism and vaccines4, some kids do react to vaccines, and they are injured. The risk of vaccine injury is much less than everyday risks like riding in a car, living in a house where there is a pool or a gun, or even being struck by lightning5. Vaccines can stimulate inflammation in the body. Vaccines engage the body’s immune system, and the resulting inflammation can cause the symptoms of Autism to present — sometimes for the first time.

Up until the early ’80s, some medical professionals asserted Autism was caused by bad parenting, particularly from the mother. These “scientists” said mothers were cold and distant, and that “caused” Autism. This put a stigma on the diagnosis from the ’50s to the early ’80s. Parents, mothers in particular, feared the diagnosis because it implied they were at fault. The “geniuses” who proposed it was bad parenting never theorized that perhaps the unemotional affect might be part of mom or dad being on the Spectrum.

Anyway, a very smart Brit named Dr. Lorna Wing, who had a daughter with Autism, revolutionized the view of the disorder, shattering the myth that it was bad parenting. You can read more about Dr. Wing here.

Autism Today

Until recently, the term Autism included three developmental disorders: Classic “Autism,” which was marked by extreme social and communication deficits, “Asperger’s Syndrome” and “Pervasive Development Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified” (PDD-NOS).

Since all three developmental disorders share common traits and their treatment is the same, the conditions were combined in the DSM-5,6 which is the manual used to define mental and neurological disorders. It’s important that any child being evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder, be evaluated under the DSM-5. It’s very different from the DSM-IVtr.

The South Pinellas Autism Project has found reference materials in local doctors’ offices sourced by the DSM-IVtr, and many pediatricians are just now getting up-to-date with the DSM-5. We very politely offer to get them new source material. You can find the DSM-5’s pages on ASD hereAlso the diagnostic codes doctors use to indicate Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental issues just got updated in 2016 to reflect the DSM-5. You can learn more about the codes here and here.

There is No Cure

Many adults with ASD and parents of children with ASD, object to the idea that ASD is a sickness that requires a cure. To them, the cause does not matter. Services matter. Many people with ASD as diagnosed under the DSM-5, or Asperger’s Syndrome as diagnosed under the DSM-IVtr, display above average or genius levels of cognition. However, due to atypical brain function they are impaired when it comes to social skills and communication. Deficits in social skills and communication can be overcome with therapy. Without therapy, a lot of very smart people lead very quiet and unproductive lives. The South Pinellas Autism Project means to change that.

Presently, the only proven and effective therapies include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Developmental Models, Structured Teaching, Speech and Language Therapy, Social Skills Therapy, and Occupational Therapy.7

Among these therapies, interventions either treat Autistic features comprehensively, or focus treatment on a specific area of deficit. There is some evidence that indicates early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI), an early intervention model based on ABA for 20 to 40 hours a week for multiple years, is an effective treatment for some children with ASD.

Our mission at the South Pinellas Autism Project is to ensure that these interventions are accessible and affordable for every child diagnosed with ASD in our service area. We’re here to transform the world for people with Autism.

1http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

2https://iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research_reports/ian_research_report_july_2007

3http://www.us.mensa.org/join/testing/scoreevaluation/testscoreconversion/

4http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html

5http://www.redwineandapplesauce.com/2013/03/05/a-look-at-the-numbers-in-vaccine-reactions/

6http://sp-autism.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/DSM-5-Autism.pdf

7http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/120/5/1162

Video Sources

Resistance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNYkS-2hDMw

Shopping Mall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr4_dOorquQ

Early Signs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb_pX7n3ZRI

Stimming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ALy6I1J1uo

Meltdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlNCz-SF-5I

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