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(Chelsea Update would like to thank Kristin Krarup-Joyce for the information in this story.)

April is Autism Awareness month, so here is a repeat of a past column.

I hear the term autism spectrum disorder frequently. What exactly is an autism spectrum disorder?
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:

  • persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have.

Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer includes Asperger’s syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS); the characteristics of both Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS are now included within the broader category of ASD.

Early Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but in general, they fall into two areas:

  • Social impairment, including difficulties with social communication
  • Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

Children with ASD do not follow typical patterns when developing social and communication skills. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. Often, certain behaviors become more noticeable when comparing children of the same age.

In some cases, babies with ASD may seem different very early in their development. Even before their first birthday, some babies become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical back-and-forth play and babbling with their parents.

Other children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to lose interest in others and become silent, withdrawn, or indifferent to social signals. Loss or reversal of normal development is called regression and occurs in some children with ASD.

If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, talk with his or her pediatrician.

While we do conduct school based autism evaluations here in the Chelsea School District, students don’t always meet our very specific school criteria. However, they may meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of autism.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns related to your child’s development, reach out to your school social worker or school psychologist. We are here to help.

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