ASD diagnosis is often a two-stage process. The first involves general screening during well-child checkups with a pediatrician or early childhood healthcare provider. Children who show some developmental concerns are referred for additional evaluation.
The second stage involves thorough evaluation by a team of doctors and other health specialties. At this stage, a child may be diagnosed as having ASD or another developmental disorder.
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) usually can be diagnosed by age 2. Some screening tests can be helpful at 18 months or even younger. However, children with milder symptoms may not be diagnosed until age 3 or older.
Early diagnosis is important, because early intervention can reduce or prevent the more severe disabilities associated with ASD. Early intervention may also improve a child's adaptive behavior—her or his IQ, language, and everyday functional skills.
Autism and Vaccines
There is no conclusive scientific evidence that any part of a vaccine or combination of vaccines causes autism. There is also no proof that any material used to make or preserve vaccines plays a role in causing autism.
Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about research on autism and vaccines. Its Concerns About Vaccines and Autism (www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/Autism/Index.html) website provides information from the federal government and from independent organizations about vaccines and autism.
There is no cure for ASD, and no one single treatment that is recommended. There are ways to help minimize ASD symptoms and to maximize learning.
Behavioral therapy and other therapeutic options
- Behavior management therapy helps to reinforce wanted behaviors, and reduce unwanted behaviors.
- Speech-language therapists can help people with ASD improve their ability to communicate and interact with others.
- Occupational therapists can help people find ways to adjust tasks to match their needs and abilities.
- Physical therapists design activities and exercises to build motor control and improve posture and balance.
Educational and/or school-based options
- Public schools are required to provide free, appropriate public education from age 3 through high school or age 21, whichever comes first.
- Typically, a team of people, including the parents/caregivers, teachers, school psychologists, and other child development specialists work together to design an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to help guide the child's school experience.
- Currently, there are no medications to cure autism spectrum disorders or all of the symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications specifically for the treatment of ASD, but in many cases medication can treat some of the associated symptoms.
- Healthcare providers might use some of these medicines to treat the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders
- Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclics
Recent research has focused on finding the earliest signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The aim is to help health professionals diagnose children at younger ages, so they can get help as quickly as possible.
For example, one early sign of ASD may be increased head size or rapid head growth. Brain imaging studies have shown that abnormal brain development in an infant's first months may have a role in ASD.
Other studies have found that unusual eye gaze patterns may be apparent in the first year of life. Infants with ASD seem to look at objects more than people, and seem to prefer geometric patterns over watching the movements of other children.
Current studies on ASD treatment are exploring such approaches as:
- Computer-based training to teach children with ASD how to create and respond correctly to facial expressions
- A medication to help improve functioning in children with Fragile X syndrome—a genetic condition that results in intellectual disability
- Social strategies that can be used in the classroom or other "everyday" settings
- Teaching very young children with ASD "joint attention" skills, such as showing or pointing to objects of interest, and responding to someone who is trying to play with them
- Training adolescents and adults with ASD in employment skills, such as writing a resume and interviewing for a job
Videos and Audio About ASD
from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/index-autism.shtml At its website, NIMH offers free videos and audio for the public about autism spectrum disorders, along with a wealth of additional research and information resources.
To Find Out More
- MedlinePlus: medlineplus.gov; Type "autism" in the search box.
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) booklets: www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/autism/overview/Pages/index.aspx
- Autism Overview: What We Know
- Autism and Genes
- Rett Syndrome
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): www.nimh.nih.gov/health/index.shtml; click on Autism Spectrum Disorders in left column
- NIMH clinical trials on ASD: www.nimh.nih.gov/trials/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders.shtml
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee's future research: www.iacc.hhs.gov/ . The IACC is made up of representatives of federal agencies and members of the public and coordinates ASD efforts within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.