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Autism Resources

Autism Resource Guide

View the interactive statewide resource directory. This interactive website also offers informational guides pertaining to a number of common topics.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

The term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. Its impact varies for each individual, but primarily, it hinders a child’s ability to communicate and interact socially with others, sometimes severely. It also impacts the way the child thinks and behaves. It can cause them to play, behave and think in repetitive ways.

ASD is a lifelong condition. It is usually first diagnosed in early childhood. Autism is more common in boys than in girls.

Children with ASD may demonstrate these symptoms in different ways. The main characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder fall into two categories:

Difficulty with social interaction and social communication: Children with ASD show varying degrees of difficulty in initiating or responding to social interactions. They have difficulty developing and maintaining relationships with others. These behaviors can be shown in many ways. They may avoid eye contact and being near other people, or they just may not know how to play and talk with children their age. Often, social situations seem confusing and stressful to children with ASD.

Repetitive movements, behaviors or interests: Children with ASD often show repetitive patterns of behavior, such as hand flapping or repeating certain sounds or phrases. They may be overly interested in a topic, making it hard to engage in other activities. They may insist on things staying the same and can become very distressed when their routine is disturbed.

The symptoms and degree of disability can vary widely. Some children and adults with ASD can perform all the normal activities of daily life. Others require substantial support systems throughout their lives.

How do I know if my child has autism spectrum disorder?

The onset of autism spectrum disorder can be different in different children. Sometimes signs of autism spectrum disorder can show up as early as infancy. Other times, children may appear to be developing normally through their second or third years, then their development slows, and signs of ASD become clearer. There may be a regression in their verbal skills and their ability to relate to others.

The earliest signs of an autism disorder include:

  • No babbling or pointing by age one
  • No single words by age 16 months or two-word phrases by age two
  • No response to hearing their name
  • Loss of acquired language or social skills
  • Poor eye contact
  • No smiling or response to others

Beyond early childhood, these are some of the indications you might find in a child or adolescent struggling with autism spectrum disorder:

Impaired social communication:

  • Language deficits, ranging from a complete lack of speech to delayed language development
  • Poor comprehension of speech
  • Echolalia (precise repetition, or echoing, of words and sounds)
  • Using stilted, overly literal or formal language
  • Cannot relate to simple gestures, body language, tone of voice or other non-verbal cues (such as understanding what it means when someone is waving goodbye)

Impaired social interaction:

  • Difficulty in engaging, communicating and interacting with others
  • Difficulty (or no interest) in understanding others’ feelings, or talking about their own
  • A lack of pointing, showing or bringing objects to share their interest with others
  • Inappropriate gestures or facial expressions
  • A lack of shared social play and imagination
  • Failing to respond to the sound of their names
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging from no interest in peers to difficulty responding to subtle social cues

Repetitive behavior patterns (behaviors, interests, activities):

  • Repetitive movements, like flapping arms or rocking from side to side
  • Preoccupation with parts of objects, like spinning wheels on a toy truck
  • Obsessive interest in a particular topic or activity, like lining up toys or researching washing machine for hours
  • Inflexibly tied to routines or rituals and angered by small changes
  • Rigid thinking patterns
  • Excessive food restrictions
  • Repetitive questioning or other repetitive statements or sounds
  • Overreaction to sensory input, or excessively seeking out certain sounds, sights, textures or smells

Not all children with autism spectrum disorder will show all of these behaviors.

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

We simply don’t know. Current research suggests that there are genetic factors at work. There is no evidence that ASD is caused by poor parenting or by vaccines.

How is ASD diagnosed?
  • 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.
  • No 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).
How is ASD treated?
  • 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 teaches language, social skills, and thinking (cognitive) skills and also helps decrease challenging behaviors that may interfere with the child’s 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.
  • 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).
When should a parent seek help?

The earlier the intervention, the better the results! If parents have concerns about their child’s development and/or behavior, it’s never too early to seek help. Parents can talk to the child’s pediatrician about referrals for services including early steps, speech and/or occupational therapy, and/or an evaluation for ASD.

Other resources

National resources:

Local resources:

***Families may also contact the Children’s Special Health Services Family Resource Center, a service located at Children’s Hospital and designed to assist families in accessing resources about a variety of topics. Families of children who receive medical care at the hospital may request services through the Family Resource Center at no cost. They may be contacted at 504.896.1340***

Schedule an appointment with the Autism Center specialists at Children’s Hospital for comprehensive treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder. Call 504.896.7272.

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