Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a medical condition which affects a child’s neurodevelopment. It refers to a broad range of conditions, characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech as well as nonverbal communication. Children with autism usually behave, interact, communicate and learn in ways that are different from most other people.
The causes of autism are not definitive or fully understood. Research does, however, suggest that autism may be caused by various conditions affecting brain development. These may occur before, during or post-birth.
There appears to be a biological correlation affecting the parts of the brain that process language, and information coming in from the senses. Other findings also suggest an imbalance in certain brain chemicals in children with autism. However, exact causes are difficult to pinpoint.
Although symptoms of autism differ from child to child, they generally include:
A child with ASD may have one or more of the following difficulties:
ASD is a spectrum and symptoms may vary from child to child depending on various reasons such as age, developmental level, and severity.
If you have any concerns about your child’s communication, behaviour or social and play skills, or if your child has one or more of the above clinical features, you should inform a healthcare professional(s) as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and intervention is very important.
As a neurodevelopmental disorder, ASD affects how a child processes information.
Children with ASD usually have other developmental conditions such as language disorders, along with attention and executive functioning difficulties. This impacts their reading, writing, oracy, social communication skills and ability to cope in school. Due to their condition, they don’t acquire skills in the same order as children who develop normally.
In their first few years, a child with ASD may not pick up words and grasp language as easily as others. They may begin to use several single words around the age of 12 months, and can pick up a couple of new words each month. However, they may only start combining words into phrases when they are aged three or older.
Children with ASD also have difficulties with time management, concentration, memory, transitions and organisation. As they lack these high-level abilities, learning during their schooling years is adversely affected.
For example, they may struggle to work on group projects as they lack the ability to cooperate with others. Solving a math problem becomes especially challenging as well, because they can’t organise information and put together different concepts to work out a solution.
They also tend to have trouble seeing the ‘big picture’, and can get lost in small details. After reading a story, a child with ASD might remember the details but be unable to understand the main point of the story and what it means as a whole.
A full evaluation should be done by a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, which may include a paediatrician specialising in behavioural and developmental paediatrics, a child psychiatrist or psychologist, and a speech or occupational therapist. Doctors may also call for a hearing test to be performed by an audiologist to ensure that hearing loss is not the primary underlying reason for the lack of social communication and interaction.
There are several assessment tools that are available for diagnostic purposes, including the most commonly used Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are conducted by psychologists who are trained to use them. Measures of the child’s speech and language skills and intellectual ability also help professionals plan intervention.
Having a formal diagnosis is useful because it helps people with autism and their families or school understand their difficulties and what can be done about them. It also allows people to access services and support.
Early intervention can make a big difference to many children with ASD by improving their skills and quality of life and helping them to be more independent. There are many support options for ASD which help improve outcomes for children.
Depending on the child’s presenting difficulties, different therapists (e.g. speech therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist) may support the development of the child’s skills in specific areas of need such as communication, social interaction, activities of daily living, and play skills. Some children may need more intensive intervention. In Singapore, these may be in the form of early intervention programmes provided by government-funded organisations or private centres.
There are no medications that treat the condition itself. However, some medications may be useful for minimising self-injurious or aggressive behaviours, associated anxiety or hyperactivity, or sleep difficulties in children with ASD.
There are many services that claim to provide complementary alternative supports that can help children with ASD. However, these have not been proven in clinical trials and there is insufficient high quality evidence to support their use.
All experts agree that the earlier a child gets diagnosed and receives early intervention for ASD, the more effective these interventions will be. A wide body of research supports the fact that young children experience significant improvements when intervention begins at the earliest possible age.
If you are worried that your child has ASD, have your child assessed for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as early as you can.
A thorough assessment is important for an accurate diagnosis. Make an appointment with an experienced professional trained in diagnosing autism, such as our experts at Thomson Kids.
It helps to think of assessment as a benchmark or starting point for early intervention support for your child. You can use the assessment to measure your child’s progress. As your child develops, he or she will begin to learn more skills and his needs will change.
Close monitoring of his development and learning by an experienced child psychologist is important so that interventions and support can be made at crucial time periods in his or her development. This structured intervention will help your child acquire the skills they need to cope in school and later on in life.
This varies depending on where it is conducted, but should be in the range of $300 - $800.
Please contact us for the estimate as total will vary depending on the number and type of tests.
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