Diagnosis and treatment
Autism spectrum disorder is a specific type of neurodevelopmental disorder, and therefore present from early childhood, in which there are persistent deficits in social interaction and communication as well as repetitive and restrictive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. Symptoms are usually detected between the ages of 12 to 24 months old.
Here we include obsolete terms such as Asperger’s syndrome, generalized autism and childhood disintegrative disorder.
The term “spectrum” is used because no two cases are the same, and clinical manifestations vary depending on factors such as the severity of the disorder, the level of intellectual and linguistic development, and the individual’s biological age.
During childhood, they may show repetitive use of objects (lining up toys for hours…), stereotyped behaviors (finger flicking…), resistance to changes (e.g. distress at apparently small changes, such as in packaging of a favorite food), language deficits (from complete lack of speech through language delays), no sharing of emotions, little or no social interaction, to the point where their parents might think that the child has hearing problems.
During adulthood, if there is no significant intellectual or language disabilities, many of them learn to suppress repetitive behaviors in public, and restrictive/special interests can be used as a route for education and employment later in life. However, sometimes they can experience anxiety or depression, as a result of the accumulated stress of having to maintain an acceptable social behavior.
It is not infrequent that ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) appears along with another neurodevelopmental disorder (such as intellectual disability, communication disorders or ADHD). However, it is also possible to find a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and high intellectual capacities.
Lastly, we cannot forget that ASD is not a degenerative disorder, and therefore learning and compensatory mechanisms can continue throughout the person’s life, meaning that with a proper stimulus and therapy, many can significantly improve their lives.