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Health Information For Parents
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder that starts early in life. It affects social communication and interaction and is accompanied by repeating and narrow patterns of behavior or interests.
Children with ASD often have problems with:
In toddlers, parents might notice:
Milder symptoms may not be recognized until a child is older and has problems with:
No two people with ASD have the same signs and symptoms. Many things can play a role, such as language delays, thinking and learning problems, and behavioral challenges. For this reason, autism is described as a “spectrum.”
Public awareness of the signs of autism and new screening tools have made early identification of autism easier. Doctors look for signs and symptoms at every checkup, ask about concerns parents may have, and do a screening test at the 18-month and 2-year visits.
If any concerns are found, doctors will suggest a complete evaluation. This usually involves a team of experts. The team may include:
They’ll observe and evaluate the child to understand his or her language/communication, thinking, emotions, development, physical health, social skills, and self-help skills. They’ll also ask the family about their concerns and the child’s birth, growth, development, behavior, and family history.
The exact cause of ASD is unknown. It’s likely that many different things in combination lead to changes in the way the brain develops before a baby is born. The strongest evidence supports the role of a person’s genes.
Other things, such as problems during pregnancy or at birth, might play a role. Many children with ASD also have an intellectual disability.
Vaccines do not cause autism.
The earlier treatment for kids with ASD starts, the better. Depending on a child’s needs, treatment may include behavior therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, medicine, and extra help with learning. The goal is to help kids:
Before age 3, kids might be eligible for services through their state’s early intervention program. Families work with a team of experts on an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This plan outlines goals and comes up with a treatment plan.
A team of therapists provides therapy at home or in daycare to eligible families.
Services may also be available in hospital-based clinics or in community centers. Insurance companies may reimburse for many services.
Kids ages 3 to 5 years old with ASD who qualify are entitled to free preschool services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Therapy and/or extra learning help is offered through local school districts or other learning centers — either at home or in a classroom.
When kids reach kindergarten age, parents can ask to switch to an individualized education program (IEP) through the local school district. An IEP can include learning goals along with behavioral, social, and self-care goals. Special education services are available until a child’s 21st birthday.
Hospitals, medical centers, and clinics that provide children’s health services often have services for kids with ASD. Both public and private behavioral health clinics may have specific services for them. Freestanding autism centers in the community may offer some services that benefit kids with ASD.
Sometimes medicines are used to treat symptoms like aggression, hyperactivity and inattention, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.
There isn’t much research to show the benefits of many therapy approaches to ASD — such as diet changes; supplements; and music, art, and animal therapies. Tell your doctor and other team members about any other therapies you’re using or considering so you can discuss the risks and possible benefits.
If your child is diagnosed with ASD, many resources and support services can help. Your doctor and care team can point you in the right direction.
These age-specific autism checklists also can help guide you. Click a link to learn more:
When your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, there’s a lot to learn. This 7-step checklist can help you find the best path forward.
Having a plan for the future can help your big kid reach his or her full potential. Follow this 8-step checklist to help your child succeed during the elementary school years.
As your child moves toward adulthood, learn the tools you need to make the transition as smooth as possible. This 6-step checklist can help.
Knowing what’s “normal” and what’s not in speech and language development can help you figure out if you should be concerned or if your child is right on schedule.
Kids with special needs may quality for services to help with learning. Here is a guide to getting the help your child needs.
You might visit a speech therapist if you’re having trouble speaking or understanding others. Find out more in this article for kids.
All kids have worries and doubts. But some have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which their worries compel them to behave in certain ways over and over again. OCD can get better with the right attention and care.
Autism spectrum disorder makes it hard for kids to learn and communicate. Find out more in this article for kids.
Autism spectrum disorder can make communicating and interacting with other people difficult. Find out more.
Working with a certified speech-language pathologist can help a child with speech or language difficulties.
Some kids may be eligible for individualized education programs in public schools, free of charge. Understanding how to access these services can help you be an effective advocate for your child.
If your child has special needs in the classroom, he or she may be eligible for a government-supported learning plan.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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