Friday, April 13, 2012

Can a child be “a little” autistic?

Parents often ask us if their child can be “a little” autistic. The truth is there really is not a clear answer. There are many terms used for children who do not have a full-blown diagnosis of autism. Some examples of these are autistic-like, on the autism spectrum, displaying autistic-like symptoms. These often refer to children who may exhibit some of the symptoms on the autism checklist but not all. Displaying one or two autism symptoms is not always cause for concern but does raise a red flag and should be checked by a professional.
One can infer that for every kid who receives an actual autism diagnosis, there is another who has autistic traits - including repetitive behaviors and communication problems – but is not found to have autism spectrum disorder. For a diagnosis to be made, a child must exhibit a certain number and severity-level of these characteristics. In other words, not every child with social impairment can be characterized as autistic. But on the flip side, many children can suffer from autistic traits on a level that is in fact impairing even though they may not meet the full criteria. The good news is that Applied Behavior Analysis treatment, which is proven to be the most effective intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder, can also be used to effectively treat any behavior disorder as well as to teach critical skills that a child may be lacking.

A parent’s gut feeling is often the best indication. Parents should follow their instincts and talk to a professional if they have trouble in any of the following symptoms:

·        Impaired social interaction or difficulty forming relationships

·        Trouble responding to social cues

·        Inability to understand give and take activities like sharing

·        Shows extreme distress over minor changes in routine

·        Problems with verbal and non-verbal communication

·        Failure to respond to name

·        Avoidance of eye contact with other people

·        Repetitive movements such as rocking, hands flapping or twirling

·        Self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging

 Applied Behavior Analysis is a scientific system of principles and techniques aimed at understanding and changing behavior. Any behavior: eating disorders, addictions, outbursts, domestic violence, relationship problems, crime, stress, etc., etc.

Also, and probably more important, is a system to teach skills. Any skill: learning skills, social interactions, stress management, anger management, productivity and motivation in the work place, etc., etc.

Challenging behaviors are means of communication: your son is telling you something when he throws a tantrum. By understanding what he needs, we teach functional skills (replacement behaviors) that are socially appropriate, thus eliminating the need for crying and screaming.

If you mom or dad are concerned about your child’s behaviors, we can help. We know how. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though you may not be able to see it now.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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