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What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Its Range Of Symptoms Including Patterns of Behavior
  • If you are reading this, you are probably wondering (or worried) whether something you noticed about your toddler could be a sign of autism spectrum disorder. You can only know for sure when you have your child checked by your pediatrician. He may also refer you to a developmental pediatrician who can provide a definite diagnosis.

    Before you go to your doctor, you can use this background on autism spectrum disorder to help you prepare for a child's checkup. The information gathered here is based on inputs from St. Luke’s Medical Center’s For Autism and Developmental Medicine and Camille Veronica Leyba, a speech pathologist and the head of Academy for ABLE Children With Exceptionalities. It is not to be used for medical advice or as a tool of diagnosis.

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    What is autism?

    Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by limited social interactions, delayed communication skills, and the presence of repetitive behaviors and interests.


    Under the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association, professionals look at a child's difficulties in two areas:

    Deficits in social communication and interaction may include:

    1. having trouble having back and forth conversations
    2. difficulty initiating interactions and socially and emotionally reciprocating with others
    3. not looking or responding when being spoken to
    4. limited use of language to communicate needs and wants, having trouble being with other kids and sharing toys or interests with them
    5. wanting to spend time alone than with others
    6. not imitating others’ actions
    7. being less responsive to social cues like smiling and having eye contact
    8. having poor attention skills 

    The presence of “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities” may pertain to:

    1. Motor mannerisms
    2. Non-functional use of objects
    3. Restricted interests and fixation for specific interests
    4. Having trouble transitioning from one activity to another
    5. Preferences for sameness
    6. Repetitive play
    7. Perseverative speech (a type of speech disorder that involves repeating words, phrases, or sounds)
    8. Echolalia (meaningless repetition of another person’s spoken words)
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    What are the patterns of behavior in autism spectrum disorder?

    1. Non-functional toy play
    2. Attachments to objects
    3. Lining things up, rank ordering
    4. Spins objects
    5. Peripheral examination of toys/objects
    6. Self-injurious behavior
    7. Repetitive body movements (body rocking, hand twisting, hand flipping, hand flapping)
    8. Resistance to changes in routine
    9. Perseveration (repetition of a particular response) on a single item, idea, or person

    In the previous edition of DSM, Asperger’s syndrome was once a classification under the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) with four other disorders. In the new edition, DSM-5, the classifications grouped under PDDs are now consolidated into one diagnosis, which is the autism spectrum disorder.

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    The relationship between anxiety and autism

    According to Autism Centre Excellence, “40% of children with autism are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.”

    Anxiety refers to a group of disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. Most people experience anxiousness at some time, and a little anxiety may even aide performance. But severe anxiety can impact on physical, cognitive, and behavioral functioning and well-being.


    “Many children with autism are anxious. About 40% will receive a clinical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, but another 20-30% will experience heightened anxiety.

    “One of the most common types of anxiety in autism is intolerance of uncertainty. This may mean that children ask a lot of questions, need routine and predictability, and get very worried before going to new places or trying new things.”

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    How to spot signs of anxiety in autism

    Signs of anxiety in autism may be difficult to spot because they look similar to the characteristics of autism. Some of the symptoms of anxiety found in the research undertaken with the assistance of a Queensland Government Education Horizon grant that might not be expected to see as a sign of anxiety include:

    1. Crying
    2. Hiding or running away
    3. A change in volume or speed of speech
    4. Becoming angry
    5. Becoming sensitive to lights or noise
    6. Non-compliance
    7. Mouthing objects
    8. Self-harm
    9. Trying to act normal

    Autism Centre Excellence declares that all should “be aware of the possibility that a child’s behavior rather than their words may be your best indicator of their anxiety. Behavior may be their loudest voice.”

    Treatment of autism spectrum disorder

    There is no specific treatment or drug medically known to “treat” or “eliminate” ASD. It is a disorder and not an illness that when you get medication, you will be well.

    However, quality of life and its symptoms can be improved with the appropriate interventions. At different points of your child's therapy, you will need the help of a developmental pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and a special-education teacher. They will collaborate to improve your child's development so that hopefully, life goals can be achieved.

    It may be a long and challenging process, but as LeybaI assures, your child can lead a life that can be fulfilling and rewarding.


    Click here for our directory of developmental pediatirians.

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