Autism spectrum disorder (which includes autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), is a complex disorder that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them. ASD has wide-ranging levels of severity and varying characteristics. No two people with ASD are alike.
Signs of ASD include difficulties in social interaction and communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviours, interests and activities.
It is often difficult to understand the behaviour of people with ASD, and the world can be a confusing place for the person involved. ASD affects around one in 100 to 110 people, with males being around four times more likely to be affected than females.
ASD is a developmental disability thought to have neurological or genetic causes (or both). However, the cause is not yet fully understood and there is no cure. A person with ASD has difficulties in some areas of their development, but other skills may develop as normal.
People with ASD will have difficulties in the two main areas of: social communication and interaction restricted or repetitive behaviours, interests and activities.
Communication for people with ASD
People with ASD often have difficulty with communication. They may have difficulty expressing their needs, wants, ideas, experiences and opinions. Some people with ASD never develop language, while others might have good verbal language skills.
For those who do develop language, they may have difficulties using appropriate grammar and vocabulary, and in constructing meaningful sentences. They may misunderstand words, interpret them literally or not understand them at all. Other people’s feelings and emotions can be difficult to understand.
Social interaction for people with ASD
Social interaction is an essential part of life for most people. However, one of the most significant problems for people with ASD is difficulty with social skills and social communication.
This may mean that they appear disinterested in others, ‘aloof’ or unable to engage in social interactions. They may have difficulty using or interpreting non-verbal communication (such as eye contact, gestures and facial expressions), have difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships, or appear disinterested in the experiences and emotions of others.
Some people with ASD appear to be withdrawn and can become isolated – others try very hard to be sociable, but may not seem to get it right. There is a range of help available, including assessment, education programs and family support.
Assessment for ASD
A detailed assessment is crucial to ensuring an accurate diagnosis. It will be carried out by a paediatrician, psychologist and/or speech pathologist.
Some children will demonstrate signs of ASD by the age of two, but a firm diagnosis may not be possible until three or older. There is a significant amount of research indicating that early intervention maximises outcomes and gives people with ASD the best possible chance of developing skills.
Assessment tests used by Western Plains Psychology include a clinical interview with family or carers CARS 11, ADI-R and ADOS and observation at a childcare centre, kindergarten or school.
Family support for people with ASD
The family members (parents and siblings) of someone with ASD are also likely to need some support. Having a child with ASD can have a significant effect on parents, who may react to the diagnosis in a variety of ways, including relief, shock, grief, anger and guilt. Feelings of stress, confusion and anxiety are also common in parents who are caring for a child with ASD.
Parents may need specialised services, such as respite and residential care (child care help), social skills training and living skills training. It can also be valuable for parents to consider joining a support group or participating in counselling.
Where to get help
Local ASD peak body: in Victoria, Amaze (Autism Victoria) Tel. (03) 9657 1600
Commonwealth Department of Social Services Tel. 1300 653 227
Association for Children with a Disability Tel. (03) 9818 2000, rural callers free call on Tel. 1800 654 013
Centre for Developmental Disability Health Vic (CDDHV) Tel. (03) 9902 4467