It’s hard to “see” autism as it is a disorder that knows no socio-economic boundaries, nor does it look the same in all individuals. Often people have visions of autism in their minds; an isolated, emotionless child usually with some type of “savant” skill. Along with these stereotypes, comes the belief that those with autism cannot communicate and therefore cannot understand nor “hear” other people. Often children with autism are described as living in a world of their own.
But as parents and professionals charged with the day-to-day care of a child with autism, these broad definitions and vague pictures rarely apply to the person standing before us. We operate from a position of care, love and intimate understanding of how this disorder does not define our loved one; it merely deepens our understanding of them.
So, then, what is autism?
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a wide degree of variation in the way it affects people. Every child on the autism spectrum has unique abilities, symptoms, and challenges. These can impact the exact diagnosis that your child gets through a mental health professional – whether it’s PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), Autism or Asperger Syndrome. The important thing to remember is that all of these diagnoses fall on the Autism Spectrum and all individuals with these diagnoses have the same core deficits or symptoms, although they may look and feel different from individual to individual. With the release of the new DSM-V, these “subsets” will go away clinically and all persons who exhibit core deficits and symptoms will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Read our blog article on this topic. These core deficits lie in the areas of communication and social interaction, specifically as they impact the development and learning ability of the individual. How they look and how deep the impact varies greatly. And that is why we focus on the person first.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, socialize and behave in expected ways. Often those on the autism spectrum have sensitivities to their environment: sound, light, clothes, etc. They rarely absorb social norms by simple observation. Due to their “disordered” brain, they struggle to “see” nonverbal communication. While they do not lack empathy, it may seem that way, since they often struggle to understand that others think and feel differently than they do. Many also struggle to express their emotions and concern in a way we would expect.
As a parent, you know your child. Therefore you are the best source to get an early diagnosis and to set up the right intervention program for your child. While researchers, doctors and advocates may disagree on the cause of autism, whether or not there is a cure or even the best therapeutic model to ease the symptoms of autism; everyone agrees that the best predictor of positive futures is early diagnosis and intensive intervention. While parents struggle with clearly seeing the early signs of autism, generally if you feel something is wrong, you should follow up with a professional. Read one parent’s story of starting this early diagnosis journey.
- Regression of any kind is a big indicator of autism in a small child – losing words once mastered, returning to scooting after crawling, withdrawing from social interactions
- Big reactions to small stimuli – fear or excessive crying in response to small, normal sounds
- Lack of interest in people or faces – consistent inability to reference caregivers in the home environment
- For a complete list of early signs of autism we urge you to visit First Signs, an organization dedicated to early diagnosis of autism. Of particular benefit are the videos showing children with autism in relation to typically developing peers.
It is hard as a parent to know if you are “over reacting,” but it is important to get help immediately. While “wait and see” may be your pediatrician’s recommendation, waiting is never a good course of action when wondering if your child has a developmental delay. Help from professionals is available. Call 866.693.4769. This FREE state-wide service will walk you through a checklist on the phone. If your child is flagged as “at risk” for developmental delays, an assessor will come to your home. They will then determine if your child is on the autism spectrum. There is power and relief in knowing, finally, what is going on.
So you’ve got a diagnosis…
Getting a diagnosis, either educational or medical, is your first step into the world of the autism spectrum (it’s a place you’ve already been living, just without a map). Still, a diagnosis and what to do next is complicated and overwhelming for many parents. You are not alone! This is where the Center for Engaging Autism comes in. We are dedicated to supporting families as they navigate through the maze of academic, medical, and community interventions available for children with autism. It’s hard to know if a program is right for your child or if you are accessing all the services your family needs. We’re here to help.
In addition to these available services, we provide parent training. Educating yourself on autism and gaining knowledge on how you can adapt your home environment, your perspective on behavior, and your parenting style to best support and connect with your child are essential for creating a foundation of success. It is that foundation, however it looks for your family, that is the best predictor for life-long success for children on the autism spectrum. All children with autism can be engaged socially.
Become empowered through our parent education classes. Explore our resource list and subscribe to our Autism Blog. It is our vision to provide the best and most practical information to parents living with autism.