Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Every child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has unique strengths and challenges. Children’s Health is home to top experts in diagnosing and treating ASD, to make daily life easier for your child and family.

What is Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

ASD is a broad term that includes Asperger’s syndrome, autism and pervasive developmental disability (PDD). All of these conditions are caused by changes in the brain that affect how a child behaves, communicates and interacts. Asperger’s and PDD are generally considered milder forms of ASD.

A child with ASD may have language problems, social problems or cognitive (thinking) problems. The good news is that there are several effective treatments for ASD. And starting treatment early – as young as 18 months – can help children reach their full potential.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

ASD symptoms look different from child to child. Many parents wonder how they can tell if their child has ASD. Here are some common ways children with ASD behave.

A toddler with ASD may:

  • Not respond to their name
  • Not respond when caregivers try to play with them
  • Not smile much or at family members
  • Play with the same toys in the exact same way, over and over again (like banging the same items together)
  • Repeat words or actions that other kids don’t usually say or do (like flapping their hands in front of their face)
  • Be unusually sensitive to noise, touch or tastes

Older children with ASD may:

  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings and their own feelings
  • Enjoy a routine and get upset when the routine changes
  • Be overly focused on specific subjects or activities
  • Find it hard to make friends and prefer to be alone
  • Avoid or resist physical contact

How is Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosed?

There are many ways to find out if your child has ASD. Sometimes, diagnosis starts when your child’s doctor asks questions during a check-up appointment. Other times, a child’s teacher may raise concerns that lead to diagnosis.

Then, your child may be referred to our specialized therapists for an evaluation. We will first ask about your concerns and look at any school records. That information can help us chose the right tests to investigate the possibility of ASD.

These tests and evaluations can include:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS): During this 30- to 60-minute test, our experts will watch how your child communicates and relates to others. The test uses a combination of books, games and activities to better understand your child.
  • Neurological testing: If needed, one of our pediatric neurologists can evaluate how your child’s brain works.
  • Psychological evaluation: Our psychologists may ask your child to do certain tasks, and observe their social, motor, memory and attention skills. These tests will seem like playful activities to your child.
  • Psychiatric evaluation: Our psychiatric doctors can help confirm a diagnosis or prescribe medication that may help your child.
  • Speech and language evaluation: Our speech language pathologists can help diagnose and treat speech and language problems. They can also refer children for hearing tests.

What causes Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

No one knows exactly what causes ASD. Here’s what we do know:

  • ASD is not caused by vaccines.
  • Genes play a role. Recent research shows that there are over 100 genes that may contribute to ASD.
  • ASD has nothing to do with the way people parent a child.

How is Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) treated?

At Children’s Heath℠, we use the latest, most effective treatments for ASD. And we tailor them to each child’s specific needs. We offer:

  • Applied behavior analysis program (ABA): This is a skill-building program for young children that’s considered the gold-standard intervention for ASD. The program helps kids under 6 practice playing and interacting with other kids to better prepare for school.
  • Behavioral therapy: This helps families and kids of all ages learn strategies to manage symptoms, interact with other people and lower stress.
  • Speech therapy: This helps with language and communication issues like delayed speech or difficulties making certain sounds (apraxia).
  • Psychiatric care: Kids struggling with aggression, irritability, anxiety or self-injury may benefit from a combination of therapy and medicine.
  • Support from social workers: Our social worker can help families find financial, logistical and emotional support.
  • Support groups: Our free support group helps parents connect with other families who know what it’s like to have a child with ASD.

Pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Doctors and Providers

At Children’s Health, your child will receive care from experts who are specially trained to diagnose and treat children with ASD. Our care team includes pediatric psychiatrists and psychologists, speech language pathologists, neurologists, behavior analysts and social workers. Whether your child needs help with behavior, communication, daily skills or transitioning to adulthood, our compassionate team will work to understand all aspects of your child’s health and behavior. Then we’ll design a treatment plan to meet their exact needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • At what age does ASD appear?

    Symptoms often appear before age 2. We see children from 18 months to 20 years old, and they all benefit from treatment. But the earlier you begin treatment, the greater the benefits.

  • Why are there more and more kids with ASD?

    There’s some evidence that the numbers are rising because of population changes or environmental changes. Research also shows that experts are just getting better at diagnosing ASD. We’re finding and treating ASD in children who used to go undiagnosed and untreated.

  • How long does treatment take?

    ASD is not something that can be cured. But when families commit to treatment and follow recommendations, they often see significant changes in six to 12 months.

  • Do all children with ASD have trouble with eye contact or delayed speech?

    No. It’s a common misconception that all children with ASD talk later than other kids or refuse to look people in the eye. Some children with ASD do not have these symptoms.