The term "autism" actually encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders. The primary disability encountered with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is that of communication and social interaction. According to the Autism Society of America, as many as 1.5 million Americans (children and adults) are thought to have autism today.
The severity of autism can range on a spectrum from mild to very severe. Children diagnosed with autism sometimes exhibit:
- poor eye contact
- difficulty with a change in routine
- sensory integration difficulties
- echolalia (repeating what is said to them)
- difficulty expressing themselves
- difficulty responding appropriately to verbal cues
- and other factors
A pediatrician usually will diagnose a child based on a thorough inventory of the child's behavior. Each child diagnosed with autism may exhibit very different behaviors from other children diagnosed with the same disorder. Researchers have determined that there are definite differences in brain structures of children with autism compared to those without autism. However, the cause of these differences is yet to be discovered.
It is likely that speech and language therapy is needed if your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in order to address the communication deficits usually encountered. Occupational therapy may also be warranted to address difficulty with sensory integration and activities of daily living. Physical therapy may be needed to address gross motor concerns, depending on the severity.