As the name suggests, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) does not describe a single, easy-to-define condition but rather several related but distinct conditions that can vary in severity. Conditions once considered separate disorders, such as PDD-NOS, Asperger’s, and Autism, are now regarded as related to the autism spectrum. Like other developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorder can impact people in various ways, from speech and language to social skills.
Estimates suggest that autism affects about 1% of the world’s population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., one in 54 children will be diagnosed with autism. Understanding autism spectrum disorder and developing evidence-based plans of care is something that can help to improve the quality of life for people living with autism.
At New Direction Mental Health, we provide clients with autism spectrum disorder treatment that can cover various services, including diagnosis, assessment, individual therapy, family support, and more. Call us at 724.374.7414 to learn more about what we can offer you, or a loved one with our mental health disorders treatment programs.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder arise during a person’s developmental period and can impair their physical, social, mental, and behavioral development. Growth and developmental disorders such as autism are typically lifelong conditions. Every person with autism develops differently, has different strengths, and faces different challenges. Autism spectrum disorder is often accompanied by sensory sensitivity and medical problems such as:
- Mental health challenges like anxiety and sleep disorders
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
Autism is usually diagnosed early in life. Developmental delays are typically noticeable when a person is two or three years old, but autism can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Because autism is a spectrum, the signs and symptoms of autism can vary greatly. Some people show behavioral and developmental differences in infancy. Other people with very high-functioning autism may not be diagnosed until adulthood, believing instead that they simply have social or generalized anxiety.
There are several signs of autism that parents and caregivers can identify in infants. Remember that babies can exhibit these symptoms but typically develop into their toddler years and beyond.
Signs of autism in babies include:
- No reaction to their name by the time they are one year old
- Poor eye contact
- Poor nonverbal communication
- Hand flapping
- No pretend play
By the time a person reaches the age of two or three years old, the developmental delays common in autism spectrum disorder are usually more noticeable.
Signs of autism in toddlers include:
- Speech delays or remaining nonverbal
- Hand flapping
- Walking on tiptoe
- Poor eye contact
- Difficulty engaging in play with others
- Fixation on an object or toy
- Obsession with routine
- Extreme anxiety
- Sensory sensitivity (sensitive to sounds, smells, or textures)
Our procedure for diagnosing autism has developed a great deal since autism was first added to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. As a result of these changing diagnostic criteria, many people with high-functioning autism are not diagnosed until adulthood. This experience is particularly common in women, who may present with different symptoms, and people with high-functioning autism, formerly Asperger’s.
Symptoms of autism in adults include:
- Difficulty reading social cues and interacting in social situations
- Difficulty relating to and building relationships with others
- Difficulty understanding jokes, sarcasm, figurative language
- Fixation on one or two favorite subjects or topics
- Fixation on subjects with complex details
- Poor emotional regulation
- Difficulty accepting change
- Developing and following strict routines
- Sensory sensitivity
- Flat affect
If you or someone you love exhibits any signs and symptoms associated with autism, it’s essential to reach out for help. At New Direction Mental Health, we offer autism spectrum disorder treatment to our clients in Pennsylvania and beyond.
What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Like many other complex mental health conditions, we cannot pinpoint a single cause of autism. Instead, we know that various genetic, biological, and environmental risk factors contribute to whether or not a person is likely to develop autism spectrum disorder.
A few factors that increase a person’s risk for autism include:
- Family history – People with an immediate family member on the autism spectrum, like a parent or sibling, are more likely to have autism themselves.
- Exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy – Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a common cause of intellectual and developmental delays. Certain infections, medicines, heavy metals, and other toxins may also impact a person developing in utero.
- Genetic mutations – Genetic differences such as fragile X syndrome can increase a person’s risk of developing ASD.
- Birth complications – Low birth weight, premature birth, and other birth complications increase the risk of developmental differences.
- Infections and illnesses – Newborn jaundice and some viral infections have been linked to autism spectrum disorder.
Regardless of what causes autism, we’re here to provide autism spectrum disorder treatment and support to those who need it. Our team of knowledgeable clinicians expertly specializes in evidenced-based autism treatments, collaborating with each person or family to create an individualized ASD treatment plan catered specifically for them.
Understanding ASD Treatment Programs
For those who have been recently diagnosed with ASD, starting a treatment plan can be daunting. Many options are available, so it is important to research the best program for you or your loved one. Knowing more about different treatments and therapies will enable you to choose a treatment plan that is right for the individual. With an increasing number of healthcare professionals focusing their research on ASD treatments, there are helpful resources that provide valuable information about which therapy modalities are most effective for different individuals.
Clients and families must work closely with their medical team to determine the best plan for them, as every person’s needs are unique. With hard work and dedication, it is possible to make great strides in understanding and treating ASD to create a life of meaning, progress, and fulfillment.
What Can Happen in an Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatment Program?
While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, experts have developed some therapies to help people with autism manage their symptoms and achieve the highest quality of life possible. Treatment for autism spectrum disorder might include:
- Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) – ABA therapy uses action and reward to help people with autism learn and reinforce new behaviors. This therapy is controversial within autism communities.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT and other behavioral therapies can help people understand their developmental differences, learn positive behaviors, and cope with the emotional impact of neurodivergence.
- Play therapy – Play and social interaction can be challenging for children with autism. Play therapy allows people with autism to play in a controlled, supportive environment.
- Speech therapy – People with developmental differences may have difficulty with speech or language. Speech therapy can help them develop an understanding of figurative language, conversational etiquette, and how to remain engaged with a conversational partner.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy – Is a non-drug, non-invasive treatment that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate certain brain areas. TMS is being explored for its potential in diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorder.
With proper care and therapy, autism spectrum disorder is manageable, and people can live fulfilling lives.
Discover ASD Treatment in Pennsylvania from New Directions Mental Health
Autism spectrum disorder can significantly impact individuals, their families, and their communities. Our mental health specialists are here to help. We offer care to people with an autism spectrum disorder in Pennsylvania, from diagnosis and assessment to individual therapy, family support, and more. At New Directions Mental Health, we are dedicated to helping people in our communities access life-changing mental health care. If you believe that you are experiencing a developmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorder, contact us today at 724.374.7414 to learn what our compassionate care providers can do for you.