Autism is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It thus includes children with autism, but also those affected by Asperger’s syndrome and those with an unspecified pervasive developmental disorder.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder present at birth. The first manifestations can appear during early childhood, generally around the age of 2 years.
This disorder affects many aspects of child development. It influences the child’s ability to communicate and relate to others in addition to restricting his fields of interest.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are unique. However, some specific traits can be observed in several of them:
- Difficulty looking people in the eye;
- Dietary rigidities (e.g. always wanting to drink milk from the same glass or agreeing to eat potatoes at a particular temperature and only if they are mashed and do not touch other foods);
- An aversion to certain textures of clothing and food;
- Hypersensitivity to certain noises or, on the contrary, the child does not seem bothered by any noise;
- Resistance to physical contact (e.g. hugs, caresses, kisses);
- An interest in repetitive games (eg constantly aligning small cars, being fascinated by rotating objects);
- A tendency to adopt unusual movements also called stereotypes (eg body swaying, hand clapping, finger twists);
- Sleep disorders (e.g. difficulty falling asleep, frequent or very early morning awakenings, heightened state of wakefulness at 3 a.m. for example).
Other signs could also indicate the presence of an autism spectrum disorder:
- The child does not respond when called by name (because he does not understand that he is being addressed, and not as a sign of opposition or because of hearing impairment).
- He lives many moments of frustration on a daily basis and the cause of his anger is difficult to determine for those who take care of him.
- He interacts little with others.
- He does not tolerate outings, novelty, transitions, the unexpected, certain types of lighting and noise.
- He is non-verbal, that is to say, he develops little or no ability to express himself through language. He can, however, understand more than he can say.
Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder:
The exact causes of autism spectrum disorder are not known. However, some cases are known to be hereditary. Some researchers believe that environmental factors are also involved.
However, parental behavior and skills do not cause autism spectrum disorder. Similarly, there is no link between the MMR (measles, rubella and mumps) vaccine and autism spectrum disorder. The doctor behind this controversy, Dr. Wakefield, committed several serious professional misconducts and was convicted of fraud.
When to consult?
Consult your family doctor if you suspect your child has an autism spectrum disorder.
It is important to report to the doctor all the signs that could lead to a possible diagnosis of ASD. You can even film some of your child’s behaviors that worry you – in a discreet and respectful way for your child – so you can show them to the doctor. This could allow him a better understanding of the behaviors observed. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will refer you to the assessment center in your area.
In general, several meetings are necessary for the assessment and different specialists can participate (e.g. psychologist, audiologist, occupational therapist, neurologist, psychiatrist). However, only trained physicians and psychologists can diagnose autism spectrum disorder.
In the public system, you sometimes have to wait 12 to 24 months before getting an appointment for an assessment. To get an appointment more quickly, it is possible to turn to the private sector, but the costs are high. However, some private insurance covers part of these costs.
How to intervene?
Autism spectrum disorder cannot be cured, since it is not a disease, but a neurodevelopmental condition. Nevertheless, means can be put in place to help the affected child.
As soon as parents are put on hold for an assessment of their child, they are also placed on a waiting list at the rehabilitation center for intellectual disabilities and pervasive developmental disorders in their region. These centers offer, among other things, stimulation activities that can be done on site, at home and in a daycare setting.