Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
What is ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the international term that describes a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders with common traits, such as deficits in social and/or communication skills, restricted interests, repetitive behavioural patterns, etc.
The term ASD has emerged to replace the term of “Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)”, that has been — until recently — widely used to describe various congenital disorders, including Autistic Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (Atypical Autism).
In 2013, the latest, updated version of the DSM-V — the taxonomic system of the American Psychiatric Association — repealed Asperger’s Disorder and Atypical Autism and classified Rett’s Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder under other diagnostic disorders.
ASD includes three levels of severity, based on the importance of the symptoms, the loss of functionality and the amount of support that the autistic person needs, starting from the mildest occurrence of symptoms and ending to the most severe form of symptoms.
Do you or your children experience some of the following symptoms?
- Avoiding eye and physical contact and interaction.
- No interest in developing social relationships, friendship or companionship.
- Absence of initiative or responsivity to other people’s initiatives to communicate and interact with them. When feasible, conversation is usually focused on topics of restricted and of personal interest.
- Unable to draw conclusions for the purposes of communication, and unable to adapt conversation to the needs of the interlocutor.
- Unable to express emotions, even when requested to do so.
- Lack of recognition of or no interest in other people’s emotions. Lack of sympathy and interest as a reaction to the expression of discontent or distress, even to affection expressed by another person.
- Lack of understanding humour, irony, sarcasm or figure of speech.
- Formulation of socially unacceptable comments under inappropriate conditions and circumstances.
- Expression of stereotypical, repetitive reactions, complex rituals, and strong resistance to change.
- Problematic behaviour, expressed as anger burst, disobedience, aggressiveness, but also self-injurious behaviour. (The problematic behaviour of both people with ASD and people with typical development, is acquired, and not intrinsic.)
ASD has organic causality and, hence, its causes should be sought in the biological substrate. Unfortunately, the exact causes of ASD have not been yet clarified, as it represents a multifactorial phenomenon.
It is caused by damage in a specific brain area or system; however, this damage may have been caused by the interaction of different biological, genetic and environmental factors.
The original causes, including defective genes, chromosomal abnormalities, pregnancy complications, medical conditions, contagious viruses, etc, may hinder the smooth development of certain brain systems or cause biochemical abnormalities, affecting the proper function of central nervous system.
The role of family environment remains crucial for the severity of the disorder’s occurrence. Thus, ASD requires timely and personalised intervention, as a multitude of research works lead to the conclusion that timely and intensive early intervention markedly improves prognosis, while optimising the potential of the autistic person at any age, promoting their smooth inclusion in the educational, social and professional environment.
People belonging to the autism spectrum often show symptoms of ADHD. ASD and ADHD comorbidity, particularly in adolescents, entails the occurrence of specific traits. Among them, the main traits are hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Consequently, it can easily be understood that comorbidity of these two conditions causes greater difficulties in day-to-day life in comparison with those encountered by a person diagnosed only with ASD.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that ASD and ADHD present high rates of overlapping symptoms. It can be seen that there are common genetic and environmental factors that affect the two disorders.
Besides ADHD, comorbidity in ASD may include known diseases and medical conditions. These are possibly physical, organic or even psychiatric, such as mental disability, epilepsy, gastro-intestinal disorders, chromosomal abnormalities (i.e. Angelman Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, Rett Syndrome), depression, panic attacks, etc.
The needs of persons with ASD are particularly increased, regardless of the level of severity, which means that, practically, the intervention programme must me focused on all aspects.
Hence, the programme should be focused on developing incentives, restricting maladaptive forms of behaviour, teaching attention skills, learning through observation, speech perception and expression (with particular emphasis on impulsive and functional communication), social interacting, recognising and expressing emotions, gross and fine motor skills, self-serving and entertainment skills, as well as teaching a wide range of skills promoting the adaption of the autistic person to the educational, social and occupational environment.
My approach has been designed bearing in mind all the above-mentioned considerations. It is intended to be used as a toolkit serving to teach all the skills required for the smooth inclusion and function in family, educational, social and workplace relationships.
My extensive experience with persons belonging to the autism spectrum or showing symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, between the ages of 2,5 to 49 years old, guarantees a successful outcome.
In order to assess your condition or the condition of your children, and, of course, to draft a personalised intervention programme, please feel free to contact me directly.