Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability, characterized by the difference in neuron development which affects the person’s social and communication abilities. Depending on the severity, it can impact many aspects of a person’s life.

Autism used to be classified as pervasive development disorders (PDD), which included Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome. With the newest revision of the DSM5, all of these disorders have been incorporated into a single diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism can co-occur with other disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Anxiety, Depression, or other types of Learning Disabilities. The earliest signs of Autism develop in early childhood, and it is beneficial for children to be diagnosed when they are young. Sometimes, however, early signs are not identified or are misdiagnosed, and it is not uncommon for older children or even adults to be first diagnosed much later, even into adulthood. Most children can be reliability assessed by 16 to 24 months of age.

Autism Awareness and Why It is Important

April is known as National Autism Awareness Month. According to the CDC, 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism. Autism Awareness is essential to educate the general public about the symptoms and treatment options for children who may be at risk for Autism. In April, many organizations volunteer and organize different seminars, presentations, and distribute autism awareness messages to educate others about this disorder.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Early signs of autism may include lack of response to their name, reduced eye contact, lack of pointing, and being oversensitive to sounds or other sensory sensations. Not all children show all symptoms, and autism can look different in each child; however, there is always a pattern of social and communication difficulties and restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Autism is typically diagnosed by a psychologist or developmental pediatrician, who will go through a clinical interview to learn about the individual’s background and early developmental history, along with rating scales, observations, and other measures of development and other areas of functioning.

Signs and Symptoms:

Because autism spectrum disorder can present differently in different children, getting a professional diagnosis is important. Some warning signs which might indicate a need for an evaluation include:

  • Not responding to his or her name
  • Choosing to play alone, and showing little interest in other children
  • Limited facial expressions and poor eye contact
  • Regression (losing skills) of speech or other skills
  • Difficulty with back-and-forth speech
  • Unusual sounding speech
  • Repetitive speech
  • Not understanding what people say
  • Not showing or sharing items with loved ones
  • Aggressive behavior

Repetitive Patterns of Behavior:

  • Repetitive movements might include flapping hands, spinning or jumping
  • Self-aggression, such as biting or head-banging
  • Insistence on following the same routine and become irritated with change
  • Coordination and movement difficulties; clumsiness or hyperactivity
  • Over- or under-sensitive to light, sound, or pain.
  • Extremely picky eaters, only eat specific food with the same texture

With treatment and maturity, many children with autism develop and can live successful, independent lives. For others, symptoms persist and may require full-time services or other supports. Young children can learn new things quickly, which is one important reason to get an early diagnosis so treatment can begin as soon as possible. Psychological evaluations of children can help with the diagnosis process.


There are many ongoing research projects studying the etiology of Autism to determine whether there is a specific cause. There is still much unknown, but at this point, it is known that both genetics and environment are involved.

l  Genetics

Genetics play a role in Autism spectrum disorder. Studies have shown that autism spectrum disorder may be related to mutations and gene impairment. Studies have found that in the last 10 years, 10-20% of Autism cases reported were due to gene mutations. Genes may be inherited or spontaneous mutations. Sibling studies have found that families with one child with autism are more likely than another child with autism.

2 Environmental factors.

The environment plays a significant role in gene mutation during pregnancy, exposing of mother to environmental pollutants, viral infection, and some medications. No singular cause has been found to cause or prevent autism, but particular environmental factors can increase the risk of someone who might already be at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

How to Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder

There are many different treatment methods being used for individuals with autism. Some have more research behind them than others, so it is important to understand the goals for therapy in order to choose the best type of treatment.

  • Occupational Therapy
  • Speech Therapy
  • Social Skills Class
  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding
  • Parent-child interaction therapy
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Discrete trial training
  • Pivotal response training
  • Early intensive behavioral intervention
  • Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR) / Floortime
  • Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children (TEACCH)
  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

If you are looking for Psychological Testing and Support Services for Children in the Northwest Chicago area, or if you want to connect over telehealth to learn more about your child’s development and behavior, contact Help and Healing Center at 847-558-7321.