Autism & Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Symptoms and Manifestations of Autism

If you’re considering a neuropsychological assessment for yourself or your child due to concerns about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you’re not alone. Many individuals and families navigate the complexities of ASD, and seeking clarity and support is a crucial step towards empowerment and well-being. For a deeper understanding of ASD symptoms and its various forms, continue reading or schedule a consultation with a neuropsychologist.

Common Manifestations and Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a developmental disorder characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and behavior. For those unfamiliar with the symptoms, recognizing signs of ASD can be challenging. Over the past decade, for example, ASD has been the most rapidly growing developmental delay with children and teenagers in public schools, accounting for almost 1% of school-aged children (Ghali, et al., 2014). This increased prevalence is not the result of an “epidemic,” but rather that of increased knowledge, increased awareness, and increasingly accessible screening services (Fombonne, 2012).

In general, symptoms become apparent in early childhood, although they may manifest fully when the requirements of the social environment exceed the child’s ability to respond adequately to them. Here are some signs that we now think to look for when considering evaluating a child (or an adult) for Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Social and Communication Challenges

Difficulty with social interaction and delays or difficulties in language development are hallmarks of ASD. In terms of the difficulties in language development, which often precede and are easier to spot than social difficulties, they can manifest as delayed speech or language milestones, repetitive or unusual speech patterns, or difficulty understanding and using nonverbal communication such as gestures or facial expressions. Later, in a social environment, challenges may include difficulty making eye contact, understanding social cues, and engaging in reciprocal conversation. You may notice that a child struggles to initiate or maintain friendships, prefers solitary activities, or has difficulty understanding the perspectives of others.

Repetitive, Inflexible Behaviors and Restricted Interests

Other common features of ASD are the presence of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. This may include repetitive body movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), insistence on sameness or routines, intense interests in specific topics and refusal to interact with other topics, as well as sensory processing sensitivities.

When considering the symptoms above, it is important to remember that ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms varying on a spectrum. As such, ASD is a very heterogeneous disorder in terms of strengths and weaknesses presented. While some individuals are verbal, others are not, while some have very good academic skills, others have intellectual disabilities.

What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

As mentioned above, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is considered to be a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social skills, communication skills and repetitive behaviors that significantly impair daily functioning (APA, 2013). As well, as the name suggests, the difficulties presented are situated on a spectrum and often vary from one person to the next.
At present, ASD is attributed to genetic, environmental and neurological factors. While we do not currently have the full picture since so many variables impact a developing brain, here are some factors currently under research.

Genetically, approximately 10% of individuals with ASD seem to have a genetic component such as a new mutation. On the environmental side, different risk factors (advanced parental age, viral infection during pregnancy, pollutants, medications during pregnancy, etc.) could interact and subsequently increase the risk of developing the disorder (Chaste et al., 2012; Gardener et al., 2009; Levy, 2009). However, while these variables correlate with a diagnosis, it is important to note that they are not necessarily causal factors but rather risk factors. Lastly, from the neurological point of view, although the cerebral functioning of individuals with ASD has not been completely elucidated in the literature, some studies seem to suggest that the two hemispheres of the brain are not optimally synchronized, thus affecting their processing of information (Dinstein et al.2011).

ASD encompasses a wide range of symptoms and presentations, leading to variability in how the disorder manifests. Even though Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered a neurodevelopmental condition, it is not always clear when a child suffers from it very early on. Certain autism symptoms can be identified at a very young age (under 2 years old), but diagnoses are generally difficult to establish at such early ages due to the naturally large variation in all children’s development. Additionally, diagnoses are also difficult to establish since ASD can present at a variety of levels of functioning, and these can become apparent only at specific times in one’s lifespan.

Historically, ASD was categorized into subtypes such as autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). However, with the latest diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these subtypes have been consolidated into a single diagnosis of ASD.

Understanding the Types of Autism Spectrum Disorder

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Autism

The DSM-5 now outlines two core domains for the diagnosis of ASD: deficits in social communication and interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. You can expand the sections below for more exact criteria as currently defined by the DSM-V:

Levels of Severity of ASD

During an evaluation, the severity of these symptoms is also assessed. This is done in order to determine the level of support that the individual needs, ranging from Level 1 (requiring support) to Level 3 (requiring very substantial support). Expand the three levels below to learn more about how they differ in terms of presentation.

Level 1: Requiring Support

Without support, deficits in social communication result in significant deficits: Difficulty initiating social interactions, atypical answers or lack of responses to social attempts and reduced interest in social interactions.

Inflexible behaviour, significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts, difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next, organizational and planning difficulties that impede their autonomy.

Level 2: Requiring Significant Support

Significant deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, apparent social impairment despite the support provided, limited social initiations, reduced or atypical responses to social attempts.

Inflexible behavior, difficulty adapting to transitions and significant distress following a change, restricted or repetitive behaviors noticeable by a casual observer and interfering with functioning.

Level 3: Requiring Very Important Support

Severe deficits in verbal and non-verbal social communication skills significantly impeding functioning, very limited social initiations and minimal response to others’ social advances.

Lack of flexible behavior, extreme difficulty managing transitions and great distress to changes, restricted or repetitive behaviors significantly interfering with functioning in several areas of functioning.

* Keep in mind that although ASD symptoms generally become apparent in early childhood, they may only manifest fully when the requirements of the social environment exceed the child’s ability to respond adequately to them. Symptoms are evaluated as they relate to clinically observable deficits in social and occupational spheres of functioning, or in other important aspects of functioning, to create the most accurate and reliable understanding of one’s unique lived experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Why NeuroSolution?

If you suspect that you or your child may have ASD, seeking a neuropsychological assessment is an essential step in obtaining a comprehensive understanding of strengths, weaknesses, and specific areas of difficulty. Unlike other evaluations, such as pediatrician screenings or school assessments, a neuropsychological assessment provides a detailed examination of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning. It can help guide you on a clear path to the support you need given the exact cognitive profile you or your child possess. Our team at NeuroSolution are experts at helping you obtain the understanding you need and the resources you require. To find out more about what a Neuropsychological Assessment for ASD looks like, please feel free to contact us.

We’ve been trying to find a bilingual neuropsychologist for some time now to help our son, who’s in a French program. NeuroSolution was the bridge we were looking for.

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