Autism Spectrum Disorder

20 March 2024

These days one often hears the term that someone is “on the spectrum”.  Of course, they are referring to  the developmental disability autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The study of this disorder is barely in its infancy.  We do know that sometimes it is a genetic condition, but sometimes not.  In those other instances, the professionals don’t always have a definitive cause.

Not only are the causes varied but the behavior can also be different from one individual to another.  Some people with ASD may be able to hold very strong conversations but other individuals are non-verbal, or somewhere in between.  Some people can live independently but others not.

We do realize that if ASD begins prior to three years old, that child will have the disorder into adulthood.  However, the symptoms may improve over time and with training and effort.  We see symptoms within the first year, 18 months and two years old.  This condition occurs across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.  It is noted that the disorder is four times more common in males than females.

ASD is basically a behavioral issue and many of its characteristics are similar to other problems like learning disabilities, attention deficit, etc., so it can be a challenge to diagnose.  It can also be confused with something as simple as being shy, other developmental issues, or having difficulty hearing.  Since it is not medical, there is no type of blood test or even a mechanical procedure to identify those with the disorder.


Medically, researchers have found some factors that may relate to this condition:

  • A sibling with ASD
  • Some chromosomal issues
  • Complications during birth
  • Born to older parents

If you have any concerns, check with your pediatrician or family physician.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also has material that will help identifying milestones.  Early intervention has shown to have a significant improvement in the individual’s life to reach the child’s/adult’s full potential.

In addition, in most communities there are early intervention services.  There are also medical professionals who specialize in developmental pediatrics, child neurologists, and child psychologists and psychiatrists.

The degree of severity has been divided into three levels:

  • Level 1 – At this point the individual has difficulty moving between activities, organizing, and sometimes planning. This can result in poor interaction with others and seem to be standoffish or more.  Sometimes communication is difficult.  It will require some interventions and treatments.
  • Level 2 – This level shows behaviors that are apparent to people outside the immediate family. It is punctuated with distress when asked to change tasks or focus. Socially there are gaps or unexpected responses.  This will require more support services to allow better societal functioning.
  • Level 3 – This is the most severe level and will require a substantial amount of support from family, medical, and related teams. Extremes are demonstrated in coping with change and usually has repetitive behaviors.  Frequently there are verbal issues and an inability to read social cues and respond appropriately.


Some actions to cause concern include:

  • Little eye contact
  • Sluggish response to conversations or continuing to talk about something of interest to them without realizing no one else is interested.
  • Uncomfortable in social situations or adjusting to others’ points of view
  • Repetitive or unusual verbal patterns
  • Extreme difficulty adjusting to transitions or alteration in routines
  • Sensory issues like dealing with sounds, lights, or temperature.

On the plus side, they often excel in math, science, or the arts.  They are able to retain information for long periods of time.

There are some medications that can help control some of the behaviors like controlling anger or aggression, or lowering anxiety or depression.  There are also a number of resources available through health departments, schools, early intervention services, support groups for families, etc.  If you keep good records of medical or other health-related evaluations and recommendations, you can use those documents to qualify for special programs that can be of great benefit to the individual and those who love them.

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