Supporting Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum
Diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder are as common as one in 54 kids. It’s time we understand the world through their eyes
October 19, 2021
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that impacts an individual’s ability to interact and communicate with other people and the surrounding world. Like other diagnoses that can affect mental health, autism can vary widely in its scope and severity.
Autism is a very common developmental disability. At present, diagnoses of ASD are made at the rate of one in 54 children.
Autism can be a challenging diagnosis. What is true for one individual with autism may not be true for another.
According to Laura D. Mead, MSEd, MBA, an educational administrator at McLean Hospital’s Pathways Academy, “Some individuals with autism are not able to speak and may require intensive behavioral therapy to prevent self-harming behaviors. Other individuals with autism become college professors, code complex computer programs, or run Fortune 500 companies.”
How can one diagnosis present so differently across different people? In some ways the concept can be hard to wrap our minds around, but in the same way that each of us is uniquely human, individuals with autism are unique in how they are affected by their ASD.
As we learn more about autism spectrum disorders, it is becoming clear that autism is a form of neurodiversity. A diagnosis of ASD brings with it a range of strengths and challenges.
Because of its complexity—and because so many of us are neurodiverse—it is urgent for parents, caregivers, and educators to reflect on what a child or teen might be experiencing in a world not necessarily designed for those with ASD.
Keep Reading To Learn
- The most common symptoms of autism
- Why sensory differences are so difficult to understand and accommodate
- Ways to support our loved ones with autism
Understanding the Spectrum of Autism
Autism spectrum disorder affects each diagnosed person differently. These differences impact the ways to support them, as people’s needs vary greatly.
Every child develops at their own pace. It’s important to monitor your child’s growth and development, too.
Developmental concerns in infants and toddlers include, but are not limited to:
- A lack of expected eye contact
- Limited use of facial expressions
- Sensitivity to being touched
- Lack of response to name by around nine months
- Not using age-expected gestures by 12 months
- Not sharing items or not pointing to items of interest or toys by 15 months
- Not noticing items pointed at by adults by 18 months
Parents might see delays in the lifting of their head, crawling, and other developmental milestones.
Below we’ve outlined some of the most common symptoms of ASD. While someone may have autism and not have all these symptoms, these signs tend to appear often beyond infancy.
- Challenges communicating with peers and/or adults
- Challenges with social communication and interaction skills
- Cognitive rigidity; seeing things as black or white
- Highly preferred, narrow interests
- Repetitive, stereotyped behaviors
- Challenges tolerating frustration and non-preferred activities
- Challenges with sensory input and management
- Sensory seeking and/or sensory avoiding behaviors
If your child is not meeting typical developmental milestones, you may want to speak with your child’s pediatrician to share your concerns. For school-age children, your child’s teacher and/or school psychologist are other important people to communicate your concerns to, in addition to your pediatrician.
Early diagnosis—and intervention—can make a world of difference with ASD.
Diagnoses made during the early years of a child’s life allow parents to secure state-supported early intervention therapies. These include, but may not be limited to, speech and language, occupational, behavior, and physical therapies.
These early interventions support the development of any lagging skills and take advantage of the brain’s ability to reroute and strengthen its neural pathways, known as neural plasticity. These therapies can support learning and skill-building for kids in their own unique learning styles.
Early intervention can bring lifelong benefits and has a truly significant impact on a child’s functional and educational prognosis.