Autism Spectrum Disorders: Increase in Diagnosis, Improvements in Treatment
Dr. David Prescott - The Acadia Hospital
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Number of Children Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders Continues to Rise:
A few decades ago, autism spectrum disorders (also termed Pervasive Developmental Disorders) were viewed as relatively rare disorders that impacted around one in 1500 children. Since that time, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has increased dramatically. Current estimates of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (2009) are about 1 in 110 children.
The reasons for this increase is attributed to several factors, although experts acknowledge that more research is needed to fully understand this trend. Some factors which appear to contribute to the increase include:
- Change in diagnostic practices among mental health experts, resulting in children that used to be diagnosed with problems like mental retardation, now being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
- Improved screening and detection of autism spectrum disorders.
- Potential ‘true” increases in the frequency of autism, due to risk factors such as increased parental age of having children.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty in three primary areas: 1) social interaction, 2) verbal and nonverbal communication, and 3) repetitive behaviors or interests. In addition, they will often have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look
The earliest signs of autism spectrum disorders usually are evident shortly after a child’s first birthday. However, reliable diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is usually not possible before a child is slightly older, around at least 1 and ½ to 2 year old.
Possible early signs of an autism spectrum disorder in a child include:
- Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
- Does not speak one word by 16 months
- Does not combine two words by 2 years
- Does not respond to name
- Loses language or social skills
Other indicators may include poor eye contact, not seeming to know how to play with toys, not smiling, or excessively lining up toys or other objects.
Treatment for Autism
Behavior Modification: Significant progress has been made in treating autism spectrum disorders over the past 25 years. Treatment typically focuses on the use of behavior modification (applied behavior analysis) to help a child with an autism spectrum disorder learn social skills, communication skills, skills to complete schoolwork, and skills to function as a family member. By combining a child’s interests, a regular schedule, and principles of behavior modification, most treatment programs help a child participate in a range of activities that would not be possible without treatment.
Dietary Modifications: There are many reports of specific food restrictions (for example, gluten free) or dietary supplements helping children with autism.
Medications: There is no single psychotropic medication that has been developed to specifically address symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. For some children, medications may help with certain problems like aggressive outbursts.
April is Autism Awareness Month
The Autism Society of America has identified April as Autism Awareness Month to help highlight research, treatment resources, and support for people with autism spectrum disorders and their families.
For More Information:
National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders
Autism Society of America: www.autism-society.org/news/press-releases/www.autism-society.org