Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs when genetic and environmental factors come together to change brain development. Symptoms of ASD can appear in the first few years of life.
Signs of ASD in Children:
- Problems communicating and interacting with others
- Difficulty playing with other kids or making friends
- Repeating words or phrases
- Unusual body movements like rocking or flapping hands
- Overly strong interests in topics, characters, or certain objects
- Being very sensitive to surroundings, having rituals, and needing routines
A licensed psychologist, neurologist, or behavioral pediatrician will usually do several tests with the caregiver and child together and do a thorough interview with a caregiver. ASD is diagnosed when the child demonstrates enough symptoms in two big areas: difficulties with social communication and specific behavior challenges and differences like repetitive behavior or movements, trouble with change, and sensory sensitivities. There is not a single medical test can diagnose ASD.
Follow up tests such as, genetic tests, or imaging tests such as MRIs may help provide information about other areas of functioning or concern. Additional testing can be done for other disorders that children with ASD are more likely to have such as developmental delay, anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Treatment of ASD
Each child with ASD needs their own special treatment program, but there are various methods. Therapy based in applied behavior analysis (ABA) is associated with the best outcomes for children with ASD. ABA is a behavior therapy that teaches language, social skills, and thinking (cognitive) skills and also helps decrease challenging behaviors that may get in the way of life.
Caregiver consultation and training can be useful for improving behavior in daily life. Speech therapy or occupational therapy may be appropriate as speech delays and fine motor difficulties are common in children with ASD. Additionally, special education programs focus on skills, speech, language, self-care, and job skills.
While there is no medication for ASD, medication may be helpful for mental health needs such as anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Caregivers of a child with ASD must have a good support system in place to help the child cope with the unique aspects of ASD. Part of this support will come from the healthcare team that is treating your child and educating you as a caregiver. Although there is no cure for ASD, with therapy, children can absolutely make progress and have better days. To learn more, visit our website at www.chnola.org/high5.
Dr. Koren Boggs is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Autism Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She earned her PhD at the University of Mississippi and completed her internship and postdoctoral fellowship at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Boggs specializes in autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities. She develops and provides behavioral intervention services to children with autism spectrum disorder and their families, conducts diagnostic evaluations, consults within departments in the hospital and organizations in the community regarding serving children with autism spectrum disorder, and trains and supervises undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate trainees. With more than 12 years of experience, she is passionate about helping improve the lives of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities through collaboration with families, other providers, and community members and organizations. Something extra about Dr. Boggs is that she is a big fan of laughter and incorporating humor into her work as much as possible!