April is Autism Acceptance Month
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a familiar word for most of us, but what does it really mean? When many hear ASD, it can elicit a variety of emotions: relief, anger, confusion, frustration, fear, shock, unknown; and that’s just to name a few.
In the appreciation of Autism Acceptance Month, let’s take the opportunity to answer some common questions we’ve received over the years.
What is ASD?
It is a diagnosis that describes individuals who “demonstrate persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction, plus at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviours” (DSM V). Simply put, the diagnosis focuses on two broad areas of development: social communication and behaviour.
What does ASD “look like” and what are these “red flags” people keep talking about?
As cliché of an answer as this may be, there’s no real way to fully and holistically answer this. It goes without saying that people with ASD are just as complex and unique as anyone else, with their own set of personality traits and characteristics as another. That being said, there are common patterns of behaviour that are observed amongst those who meet the criteria for the diagnosis—some of these behaviours can be observed in infancy too. The CDC lists some common characteristics, but this is not an exhaustive list, and may not apply to your child specifically. If you have a child that you have concerns about, please contact a professional to seek further support and advice.
How does one get an ASD diagnosis?
At least in BC, an ASD diagnosis is provided by a paediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Where do SLPs fit into the process?
In BC, children under 6 require a collaborative assessment by three professionals to be eligible to receive the government funding (Autism Funding Unit, AFU): the psychologist/psychiatrist, a paediatrician, and an SLP. Since ASD is defined partly by deficits in social communication and interaction, SLPs are able to offer a unique perspective on an individuals’ competence and development in this area, even for those over the age of 6.
Will they outgrow it?
As we understand it, ASD is a neurological difference that, as described in the definition, is “persistent”. That is to say, individuals do not “outgrow” it. With that in mind, children will continue to grow and learn! Individuals with ASD may learn differently from their peers, but with the right support from family, clinicians, and peers, they have the potential to be greatly successful in their own right too!
Does gender play a role?
To date, much of the research on ASD has been done on males, so a lot of what we know (including the diagnostic criteria in the DSM V) may be more applicable to males. More recent research indicates that girls with ASD often present quite differently than the boys, often leading to them being underdiagnosed. It’s likely that ASD isn’t “more likely” to occur in boys, so much as what we understand ASD to be isn’t able to capture the differences in how girls with ASD present.
This is hardly the tip of the iceberg, and the world of ASD is always growing and changing. There’s always more to learn and understand, and it’s up to us as family, friends, and interventionists to keep up and continue to support individuals in their journey in this complex and constantly evolving world.
By: Ina Lin, MSc.
Registered Speech-Language Pathologist