What is Autism? Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder which affects the way the brain develops and processes information. ASDs are characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. The term autism spectrum disorder incorporates several previously separate diagnoses including Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
ASD is considered a “spectrum” disorder because it varies widely in its specific behaviors and severity from one person to another. Some individuals present with such mild symptoms that the disorder may go largely unnoticed by others. In more significantly affected individuals, life-long support and care may be needed. Symptoms can also vary by age and developmental level, with younger individuals often displaying different symptoms than older individuals. In all cases, individuals with ASD or other related conditions can benefit from early and appropriate treatment.
How common are ASDs? Most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2014) indicate that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. The prevalence for boys is about 5 times higher than it is for girls, with 1 in every 42 boys having an ASD, and 1 in every 189 girls having an ASD.
How are ASDs diagnosed? At this time, there is no blood or medical testing that can detect ASD. Rather, diagnosis is based on a pattern of behaviors which are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The most recent version of this manual, DSM-5, was published in May of 2013. Diagnosis of an ASD requires a comprehensive evaluation using specialized assessment tools and completed by a professional with extensive knowledge and training related to autism. Appropriate evaluations provide assessment across a range of areas (e.g., motor functioning, communication, socialization, play, thinking skills, coping skills).
What causes ASDs? While currently there is no known single cause for ASDs, it is generally accepted that ASDs are biological and affect brain development. In some cases, specific genetic syndromes, such as Rett's Syndrome, Fragile X and tuberous sclerosis, result in symptoms of ASD. Other genetic causes, such as small copying errors in the genetic code, have recently been identified and research is investigating environmental factors that may be linked to ASD. In general, there appear to be different types of ASD which may be associated with many different causes.
How are ASDs treated? Although there is currently no known cure for ASD, there is substantial evidence that individuals can make remarkable progress with early intervention and appropriately tailored therapies and interventions. The ideal treatment plan is one that coordinates therapies and interventions that target core symptoms: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.
As a parent or caregiver of a child with autism or a related disability, it is important empower yourself with the knowledge and readiness to meet your child’s needs. The social, communication and behavioral challenges associated with these disorders can contribute to other developmental, interpersonal, emotional and academic challenges. It is important to be aware of the resources available to maximize the potential of your child.
Academically speaking, your child may need specific accommodations and supports during their school age years. Upon your child’s transition from Pre-K, it is imperative to determine the types of services and supports needed to meet your child’s educational needs. Specifically, the IEP will provide your child with the appropriate accommodations to ensure success both academically and socially.
In regards to social communication, it is recommended that you engage your child in positive social interactions among various types of peers. These opportunities will provide your child with the ability to practice and acquire the tools to appropriately interact in social settings. Based on your child’s needs, there are several ways to build his or her social skills. Within the community, you can engage your child in recreational opportunities or therapeutic interventions, such as social skills groups.
Whom does The Tree of Knowledge Learning Center for Autism (TOKLCA) serve?
TOKLCA serves children (ages 3-11) who have autism spectrum disorders, dual sensory impairment (deaf-blindness), a vision or hearing loss in addition to other disabling conditions, or genetic disorders that may co-exist with autism symptoms (e.g., Fragile X Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis). TOKLCA is required to obtain documentation of an eligible diagnosis in order for an individual to receive our services. However, we will also guide individuals and families in their efforts to obtain appropriate diagnostic evaluations.
What does TOKLCA do?
An average case for us usually goes something like this: Individuals who have recently received an eligible diagnosis or family members of those individuals will call TOKLCA for assistance. At that point, a clinical intake is scheduled at your home or the TOKLCA office so the individual or family members can meet with a TOKLCA staff person, share their story, and begin preparing to get their needs addressed. The specific individualized program we will provide and the intensity of our support will depend entirely on what the individual or family members identify as their current priorities.
What do families need to do?
Individuals or families must officially register with TOKLCA in order to receive our services. This requires the clinical intake described above. If you are not yet registered or not sure if you are registered, just give us a call. We will be happy to sort that out for you. Once you are registered, then you can receive services at TOKLCA. If you are not, you can begin receiving them after your official intake appointment.
How often can families contact TOKLCA and what’s the cost?
You can call us as often as you need. We may not always be immediately available, but we will get back to you as soon as possible. Individuals or families may call us whenever they need support, information or to share something (we especially love to hear your success stories!). Schools or other organizations that serve individuals with autism spectrum or related disabilities may also call us when they need training, information, or consultation and assistance. All services are provided at no cost.
Can my child be diagnosed at TOKLCA?
No, we do not perform diagnostic evaluations, but we will help families find a qualified professional if they are seeking a diagnosis.