Answers to common questions about autism spectrum disorder

April 25, 2023 in Family Caregiving

About 1 in 36 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to a recent report from the CDC and 2.21% of people (or 5,437,988 people) over the age of 18 may be living with ASD according to CDC estimates. If your child, young adult, or you have been diagnosed with ASD or you suspect someone you care about may be living with this condition, it’s helpful to learn more about ASD.

The answers to these common questions can be the first step to gaining a better understanding of ASD:

  • What is ASD? It’s a form of neurodivergence (a term that means that people’s brain differences affect how their brain works). It’s not a single condition, but rather a group of related conditions that share a core set of symptoms. A complex developmental and neurological condition, ASD can affect communication and behavior. The type and intensity of symptoms varies from person to person.
  • What are the common symptoms of this condition? Symptoms are usually grouped into three categories—communication and interpersonal interaction skills; restricted or repetitive behaviors; and other types of symptoms. Some common examples include:
    • Communication and interaction skill symptoms
      • Avoiding or minimizing eye contact
      • Not answering to one’s name or a delayed response
      • Lack of interest in other people or sharing interests
      • Trouble understanding other people’s emotions, expressions, and non-verbal cues
      • Trouble expressing emotions
      • Trouble taking part in conversations
      • A singsong or robotic tone of voice
    • Behavior-related symptoms
      • Getting upset by minor changes in routine
      • Repetitive behaviors or speech patterns
      • Intense, ongoing interest in certain topics
    • Other symptoms
      • Delay in learning how to talk
      • Repetitive behaviors or body movements
      • Learning delays
    • What type of healthcare provider can diagnose ASD? Diagnosing and managing the symptoms of ASD is often handled by a team of healthcare providers. Your child’s pediatrician may perform the initial screening as part of a regular checkup. If you or the provider find potential signs of ASD, further evaluations may be recommended with a developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, or child and adolescent clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. You may work with more than one of these specialists, as well as speech and physical therapists and audiologists, depending on your child’s symptoms.
    • What’s involved in the diagnosis process? There are several steps in the process of diagnosing ASD. The first step is usually an interview with the parents or caregivers. The provider will gather information about the child’s medical, developmental, and behavioral history, as well as a family medical and mental health history. Next, the provider will perform a general physical exam, a neurological exam, hearing tests, lab tests, and genetic tests. These tests can help rule out other diagnoses and uncover any coexisting conditions. The provider will also observe your child playing and interacting with other people. In some cases, a speech and language assessment, cognitive tests, and a sensory-motor evaluation may be recommended.

Questions to ask your doctor

Bring this list of questions to your appointment to help you learn as much as you can about the condition and next steps:

  • What factors or symptoms suggest that my child/I have ASD? What factors suggest that it’s not ASD?
  • How is the diagnosis confirmed or ruled out? Should I consider a second opinion?
  • What types of symptoms should I be on the lookout for and what possible changes in these symptoms should I let you know about?
  • What approaches to care and support are available? What are the pros and cons of the approach you’re recommending?
  • Are there support groups and resources with evidence-based information you’d recommend for me and my child?




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