Autism and Mental Health

April 4, 2022 

April 2nd, 2022 is World Autism Awareness Day. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. It can be diagnosed at any age and can occur in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. It is labeled “spectrum” because of the wide variation in types and severity of people’s experiences. ASD is a lifelong disorder, but with treatments and services, it can improve symptoms and the ability to function. People who have ASD tend to have difficulty with communication and interaction with other people, restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, and symptoms that can hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, or other areas in life.

 

Though not all people with ASD show all the behaviors, most will show several. Some symptoms include:

            ~ Makes little/inconsistent eye contact

            ~ Tends to not look or listen to people

            ~ No or slow response to name/attempts to gain attention

            ~ Facial expressions/movements/gestures that don’t match what is being said

            ~ Difficulty understanding other people’s point of view

            ~ Gets upset by a slight change of routine

            ~ Sleep problems and irritability

 

People who have ASD do have several strengths.

            ~ Can learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time

            ~ Are strong visual and auditory learners

            ~ Excels in math, science, music, and art

 

There are no exact causes of autism spectrum disorder. It is believed that the genes act together with the influence from one’s environment to affect development.

 

Similar to many other disorders, there are certain risk factors. Some include siblings with ASD, older parents, certain genetic conditions (like Down Syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Rett Syndrome) and a very low birth weight.

 

Diagnosis is a process when it comes to ASD. For young children, it is a two-stage process. The first one being the well-child checkups (which are periodically done) to look for developmental problems. Then would be an additional evaluation with specialists who have experience in diagnosing ASD. Older children and adolescents are normally evaluated by a special education team and then sent to their primary doctor for additional testing. Adults are much more difficult to diagnose, since it can overlap with mental health disorders. Normally they would need to speak to their primary doctors for a referral for additional testing.

 

As previously said, there are treatments to improve ability to function for those who struggle with ASD. These treatments include medications, behavioral/psychological/educational therapy, support groups and special programs.