Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder has become the most common neurological and developmental disorder diagnosed in children today. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) estimate that 1 out of every 88 American children have been properly diagnosed. There is no known cure for autism, and the inconsistencies of the symptoms of autism in each case make it difficult to target a particular set of effective treatments. However some behavior management therapies, specifically physical therapy, may help to significantly control the unwanted symptoms in young children with autism spectrum disorder.
Symptoms. Children begin showing symptoms of autism as early as twelve months of life, making two to three years old the typical age of diagnosis. The symptoms of autism are truly of a spectrum, hence the name, meaning no child is affected by the disorder in quite the same way. However, symptoms of autism are generally categorized into three basic areas of impairment, the first of these being sociability. Most children with autism have trouble comprehending basic social situations. A child with autism likely makes little eye contact, fails respond to other people in their environment, and reacts inappropriately when others show extreme emotion. It is common for children with autism to misread emotional cues because they focus on a person’s mouth while speaking instead of their eyes as would an unaffected person. Likewise, people may have difficulties understanding the emotions of an autistic child. Many times their body language or tone of voice will not match the emotion that they are trying to express. The second area of impairment is communication. Children with autism have delayed language skills. Even those with comparatively developed language skills may have trouble carrying on simple conversations. Finally, the third and broadest area of impairment is repetitive behaviors. Autistic children often exhibit some degree of a repetitive behavior that can range anywhere from mild to extreme. This can include a variety of actions such as constantly rocking back and forth, toe-walking, eye-rolling, spinning, and clapping. The child could have set routines that they feel a need to obsessively follow every day. This can even take the form of an overly focused interest on something that the child enjoys such as science, music, or art. When these repetitive actions are observed in the child over long periods of time they are then referred to as “stereotypic behaviors“.
Diagnosis. The earliest indicators of autism are impairments of verbal and nonverbal communication. A child with autism will have difficulties responding to their name, smiling and making eye contact, babbling or cooing by twelve months, and using single or two word phrases by twenty-four months (NIMH, n.d.). A proper diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is a two part process. The child is first given a general...