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Advocacy Tip: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that can cause behavioral, communication, and social challenges. A diagnosis of ASD now encompasses several different conditions that were previously diagnosed separately. These include autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. It is estimated that 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD. In order to advocate for a child who may have ASD it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of possible ASD, and what treatment options are available.

Signs and Symptoms of ASD
The signs and symptoms of ASD can begin to develop at a young age. In some studies children as young as one year old showed symptoms of ASD, and in nearly 80% of children symptoms were present by two years old. Possible symptoms in very young children can include not responding to their name by one year old, not pointing to objects of interest by 14 months, and avoiding eye contact and interactions with others. Other possible signs of ASD include delayed speech and language, repetition of words or phrases, avoidance or resistance to physical contact, repetitive motions or actions (flapping arms, rocking, etc), unusual eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty expressing or understanding emotions.      

Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to diagnose ASD a child’s doctor needs to consider the child’s developmental level and their behaviors. Children who are suspected to have ASD may be referred to a specialist for screening and diagnosis. Diagnosing ASD occurs in two steps. The first step is a developmental screening that will typically occur during a well-child visits. The second step is a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. This evaluation may include several different tests to rule out other medical conditions, interviews with parents & caregivers, and a review or observation of the child’s behaviors. Although there is no cure for ASD, early intervention treatment services and therapies can help to improve a child’s development and their overall outcomes. Early diagnosis is key for children with ASD. The sooner a child is accurately diagnosed, the sooner interventions can be implemented to assist a child with ASD. In some cases, an experienced and trained professional can provide a reliable diagnosis of ASD as early as age 2.

There are numerous ways to help advocate for children with ASD or who are suspected to have ASD. Advocates should first familiarize themselves with the age appropriate developmental milestones of the children on their cases. Advocates should also talk with caregivers, teachers, or daycare staff about any concerning behaviors or delays that the child may be exhibiting. Any concerns that advocates have should be relayed to the child’s caseworker and doctor so that further assessments and/or referrals can be made for the child.  

1. True or False. Children cannot be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder before age three.

2. Explain why it is important for CASA advocates to be aware of a child’s developmental milestones when a child is suspected to have ASD.

3. If a child is suspected to have ASD, what is required in order for a diagnosis to be made?

To receive 1 hour worth of training credit, read the above article and submit answers to the accompanying training questions to Anna Munoz at