Autism Spectrum Disorder – What is it, How is it Diagnosed, and What Supports are Available?
Written by Vicky Sarris, Provisional Psychologist
World Autism Day is celebrated on 2 April 2023. Due to the wide range of presentations of the disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder remains relatively misunderstood by the general population.
Read below to learn more and find answers to commonly asked questions, or contact us to see how we can help you.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition, characterised by difficulties in communication, social interactions, and restricted or repetitive behaviours, including interests and activities. No two people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis have the same symptoms, as the characteristics and severity exist on a broad scale. While some individuals may present as non-verbal, others may excel in their studies and experience difficulties only in the context of to-and-fro conversations.
Who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Historically, Autism Spectrum Disorder has been diagnosed four times more often in males than females. This may be because women tend to exhibit co-morbid intellectual disabilities, as well as more subtle communication & social impairments. Therefore, restricted interests and/or repetitive behaviours in women should be considered and evaluated.
When do symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder become apparent?
While Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed at any age, symptoms generally become apparent at approximately 2 or 3 years old. Early evaluation, diagnosis and intervention are important for the development of communication, social and life skills required to live a fulfilling life.
What are some signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Parents concerned that their child may have symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder should consider how their child interacts with the world.
Common social, communication, and interaction behaviours may include:
- inconsistent or little eye contact
- appearing not to look or listen when spoken to directly
- slow response to verbal cues
- difficulty instigating and maintaining conversation
- incongruent facial expressions
- difficulty sharing in play and making friends
- difficulty understanding other’s points of view
Common restrictive and repetitive behaviours may include:
- repeating certain behaviours, such as words or phrases
- interest in specific topics
- difficulty with routine adjustments and transitions
- sensitivity to sensory input, including light, sound, clothing and/or temperature
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder in adulthood can be challenging, as some symptoms overlap with other mental health disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders. Adults who notice any of the above signs can consider talking to their health care provider or psychologist to seek evaluation.
How can I help someone get assessed?
Autism Spectrum Disorder can be assessed by a specialist paediatrician, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist.
Standardised tests can include interviews, observations, and cognitive testing, including but not limited to general intelligence testing, achievement testing, and behavioural scales. Where possible, school reports and/or teacher feedback should be obtained to support observations made by parents/carers.
What support is available to individuals?
A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder includes a classification based on the severity of the disorder and the support needed. There are three levels of severity, ranging from:
- Level 1: individuals requiring support
- Level 2: individuals requiring substantial support
- Level 3: individuals requiring very substantial support
A psychologist can help develop individualised strategies and programs for behavioural difficulties and symptom management. Specialised educational programs, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are also available.
Funding may be available via the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Further information can be found here: https://ourguidelines.ndis.gov.au/home/becoming-participant/applying-ndis/do-you-meet-disability-requirements#caused-by-impairment.
What support is available to carers?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong disorder, and carers may struggle to meet their own needs in addition to the needs of the individual they’re supporting. Psycho-education regarding the disorder is readily available online (https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/) and various carer support services offer useful resources (https://www.carergateway.gov.au/). Carers may also find it helpful to seek counselling or psychological services to strengthen their own support network.
If you are interested in seeking an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis for yourself or a loved one, or if you are seeking behavioural support or psychological intervention, our team at Mind Health Collective is here to help. Call us to arrange an appointment with our experienced psychologists.