Autism Spectrum Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on June 18th, 2018

Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD or Autism) is a condition that is typically diagnosed in early childhood. It is a disorder that affects a child's ability to socialize and communicate. Autism causes different strengths and challenges within a child. It is a complex disorder that can be difficult for the child and his or family members to understand and cope with each day.

Symptoms of Autism

Autism is diagnosed on a spectrum of strengths and challenges of each child. A child with autism will show symptoms between 1-3 years of age. The following are symptoms of autism:

  • Difficulty holding eye contact
  • Flat affect
  • Lack of emotional facial expressions
  • Lack of interest in socializing or interacting with others
  • Failure to create friendships
  • Difficult understanding expressions of emotions
  • Limited or no verbal or nonverbal communication skills
  • Failure to learn how to speak, or learning a limited vocabulary
  • Limited ability to learn or understand concepts
  • Limited cognitive functioning
  • Fixation on specific inanimate objects
  • Unpredictable fits or tantrums
  • Habitual or repetitive behaviors, like rocking, clapping, head rolling, etc.

Causes and Risk Factors

It has been difficult for researchers to understand what causes autism. Professionals believe genetics and environmental factors contribute to the risk of autism.


Research has found a correlation with certain genetic mutations and a diagnosis of autism. This means there is a hereditary component that can be passed from parent to child.

Birth Complications

The following conditions during pregnancy and delivery contribute to the risk of autism:

  • Prematurity
  • Low birth weight
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Infection
  • Exposure to air pollutants

Treatment for Autism

Both the child and the family are affected by the challenges that come with autism. Treatment for autism can be tricky. The older the child grows without treatment, the less effective the recovery process.

Children with autism tend to perform well with structure. Considering this, treatment incorporate structured techniques to address different issues. Treatment for autism is integrative. This means it includes different forms of therapy in treatment, like:

Family Therapy – Families are deeply affected by a diagnosis of autism. There will need to be modifications to the daily functioning of the family as a unit. It is important for each family member to learn about autism. They will also need to learn how to handle symptomatic situations.

It is also important for parents to seek counseling. Often parents feel guilty or responsible for their child being diagnosed with autism. It helps parents to have an outlet for their emotions and struggles about their child.

Behavior Therapy – Behavior therapy helps with the behavioral challenges children face. Behavior therapy for autism works to replace problem behaviors with healthy behaviors.

Communication is an important component to behavior therapy. A child suffering from autism is likely to communicate through acting out. He or she will be resistant to use verbalize his or her needs. Behavior therapy will help improve motivation to communicate verbally. This will reduce tantrums and acting out behaviors.

Cognitive Therapy – Autism causes challenges and strengths in cognition. Children with autism often struggle with academics and educational settings. It is important for an autistic child to participate in learning programs if he or she is struggling in school. The learning programs are focus on social skills, behavior and learning skills. These programs help the child advance academically with his or her age group.

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