Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects approximately 1 in 70 children in Australia. Young people on the autism spectrum typically exhibit difficulties with social interaction, as well as uncommon (or "quirky") patterns of behaviour, and unusual expression of their emotions.

Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Below are some examples of what might be observed in children on the spectrum. There is no one-size-fits-all symptom register for ASD. In fact, autistic kids may demonstrate high-function in some of these areas. For instance, it is possible for children on the spectrum to show typical, or even excessive, empathy and social consideration. 

Social/communication:
  • lack of interest in other people
  • poor conversational skills
  • unusual tone of voice
  • awkwardness
  • lack of shared interest
  • doesn't understand social conventions
  • difficulty showing empathy
  • lack of, or unusual eye contact
  • lack of, or unusual facial expressions

Behaviour:
  • rigidness (e.g., overly particular preferences for clothes, foods, toys)
  • dislikes change (e.g., to routine, new foods, transitions)
  • becomes fixated/obsessed with certain topics, objects, ideas
  • unusual sensory experiences (e.g., sensitivity to sound, textures, smells, light)
  • unusual and repetitive actions (e.g., hand flapping, mimicking speech, lining up objects)
  • excessive tantrums (e.g., shouting, aggression)

Emotions:
  • difficulty identifying and understanding others' emotions
  • difficulty understanding and controlling own emotions
  • facial expressions do not accurately reflect emotional experiences

Why is it called a 'Spectrum Disorder'?

The type, severity and range of ASD symptoms may vary from case to case. Some children with autism suffer from severe intellectual, social, emotional, behavioural and daily-functioning impairments; these individuals may require constant 1:1 supervision, care and support. Individuals at the other end of the autism spectrum may demonstrate a high level of functioning, and manage a relatively normal degree of independence and daily living (high-functioning autism was previously referred to as Asperger Syndrome, or Asperger's).

Getting a diagnosis

Children must be evaluated by either a paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist to receive a formal autism diagnosis. Psychological assessments are the usually the most valid and reliable way to determine whether a diagnosis is appropriate or not.

NOTE: Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. There are no quick and easy check-lists or online quizzes to give you a valid diagnosis.

Find out more about getting a diagnosis here.

Purpose of Assessment

Identifying ASD in children is reserved for specialist mental health professionals. A comprehensive psychological assessment and accurate diagnosis are necessary to rule out other possible explanations for the child's concerns, and determine the most effective support strategies. 

Access to support funding (eg. through the NDIS) typically requires evidence of disability and impairment. A psychological report is a useful document to validate a child's functional difficulties, aid funding applications and guide support plans. 

For further information regarding autism, you may like to visit the Autism Awareness Australia website. 

Free Online Screening Test

The following questionnaires are suitable for children with suspected autism (without intellectual or language impairments):

Autism symptoms scale (ages 4-11 years) →

Autism symptoms scale (ages 12-15 years) →

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