What Is ASD?
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle with social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. Most people with ASD lack “theory of mind” (the ability to understand what others are thinking or feeling). The term “Asperger’s,” which described highly intelligent people on the autism spectrum, was officially discontinued in 2013. ASD is considered a developmental disorder. Although it persists across the lifespan, it is usually diagnosed when children are fairly young. It is also considered a spectrum disorder because individuals with this diagnosis can have a wide range of symptoms at various levels of severity. People with ASD are also frequently diagnosed with other conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. The rates of ASD diagnosis have rapidly increased in the past decade but only 1% to 2% of the population has this disorder. Males are four times more likely to be diagnosed than females. Higher rates of diagnoses may be due to less stigma about this condition and increased knowledge about ASD in females and “high functioning” autism.
Subtypes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
The older subtypes of Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS (PDD-NOS) have been eliminated.
- Makes limited eye contact with others
- Difficulty with social conversation (“chit chat”)
- Often talks at length about own interests
- Limited ability to “read” others’ facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language
- May speak with flattened affect or unusual tone/affect
- Repeating certain words or phrases
- Demonstrates an intense interest in certain types of information (e.g., train schedules)
- Becomes extremely upset by changes in schedule or need to transition
- Bodily rocking or moto tics (e.g., repeatedly touches side of nose)
- Unusual sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
Diagnosis and Treatment
ASD is usually diagnosed by a psychologist or a qualified medical professional such as a developmental behavioral pediatrician. Assessment typically includes a detailed review of the person’s developmental history (including speech development), direct testing and observation of symptoms, and a review of rating scales completed by others who know the individual well. Since 2013, evaluators rate severity (“level of needed support”) when making the diagnosis. Treatment is usually comprehensive and ongoing. This can include individual and family therapy, medication management, occupational and/or speech and language therapy, educational accommodations and, for adults on the spectrum, job coaching and housing assistance.
Many of our psychologists provide therapy to individuals with ASD and their families. Dr. Sandra Burkhardt and Dr. Anna Merrill, in particular, specialize in working with clients on the spectrum. Our psychologists offer informed clinical support to everyone in the person’s caregiving network.
Two of CRG’s medical providers, Jason Rowland, M.D. (child and adolescent psychiatrist) and Carolyn Krueger, APRN, PMHNP-BC (psychiatric nurse practitioner), specialize in medication management with individuals on the spectrum. Medications often help minimize the anxiety and executive functioning difficulties that many people with ASD experience.
A number of CRG providers run social skills groups for children and teens. Many of the students who participate are on the spectrum. These groups help young people develop friendship skills, communication skills, greater self-awareness and self-confidence. Contact our front office for more information about groups run by CRG psychologists such as Dr. Nathan Larson and Dr. Anna Merrill. Dr. Sandra Burkhardt also runs a free educational group for the parents/grandparents of youth on the spectrum. These groups meet throughout the academic year at CRG. Please click here to learn more about these groups.
David Parker, Ph.D., CRG’s postsecondary disability specialist, helps individuals with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s explore postsecondary options. This can include specialized programs for students on the spectrum or disability services and related community supports for students who have the ability to attend online or traditional colleges.
Both Dr. Parker and Dr. Anna Merrill (psychologist) now run CRG’s Transition Services. These group of sessions is primarily helpful for older adolescents and young adults with ASD although Transition Services can help other young adults who are struggling “to launch,” too. The year-long structured program begins with an intake process that uses person-centered approaches and tools to help the client (and his/her parents) identify life goals that may include higher education, technical skills training, independent living goals, or other aspects of that young person’s life. Over the course of the following year, the client meets with Dr. Parker for coaching services and/or Dr. Merrill for therapeutic services. Both providers help the young adult implement his/her goals, form a strong network of related providers who can help in this process (such as Vocational Rehabilitation), and monitor the client’s progress.
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