Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that affects how a person experiences the world. It impacts how someone perceives and socializes with others, often causing communication and social interaction challenges. Limited and repetitive behavior patterns also characterize this disorder. The word spectrum refers to a vast array of symptoms and levels of severity. The condition includes developmental disorders that were earlier classified separately. These conditions include autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and unspecified forms of pervasive development disorder. To learn more about autism spectrum disorder, including the treatment methods, contact Las Vegas physical therapy specialists at Suarez Physical Therapy.  

Symptoms Of Autism

Usually, autism starts in early childhood and causes challenges in functioning in society. It affects social interaction and performance in schools and the workplace. Most children with autism spectrum disorder show signs of the illness within the first year. A small percentage of children have normal development in the first year but go through regression from 18 months to 24 months of age when autism symptoms develop. There is no cure for autism. However, early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in the lives of many children.

Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. These symptoms include reduced eye contact, indifference to caregivers, and a lack of response to their names. Other children will develop normally in the first few months or years of life. Later, they become aggressive or withdrawn and lose their acquired language skills. Signs of autism spectrum disorder are clear by the age of two years.

Each autistic child has a unique behavior pattern and severity level. People with the disorder can be low-functioning or high-functioning. Some children with ASD have difficulty learning and exhibit lower signs than normal intelligence. On the other hand, some children with ASD have normal or high intelligence; they learn fast, but they have challenges communicating, applying what they learn in normal life, or adjusting to social situations.

ASD severity can be hard to determine because of the unique symptoms in patients. Experts gauge ASD severity based on the impairment level and the impact on a patient's ability to function. Here are some of the common symptoms exhibited by ASD patients:

Social Communication and Interaction

A child with ADS can have problems with communication skills and social interactions. The common signs are:

  • Does not respond to his or her name and can appear not to hear when called.
  • Lacks facial expression and has poor eye contact.
  • Resists holding and cuddling and seems to like playing alone or retreating to their world.
  • Has delayed speech or does not speak and loses the previous ability to speak words and sentences.
  • Cannot initiate a conversation and keep it going but only labels items or makes requests.
  • Speaks with an abnormal rhythm or tone and may use robot-like speech or singsong voice.
  • Repeats words or phrases but does not understand how to use the words.
  • Does not appear to understand simple directions or questions.
  • Does not express feelings or emotions and appears not to understand other people's feelings.
  • Do not bring objects or point at them to share interest.
  • Approaches a social interaction inappropriately by being aggressive, passive, or disruptive.
  • Has problems understanding and interpreting other people's non-verbal cues like body postures, people's facial expressions, and tone of voice.

Behavior Patterns

A person with autism can have limited and repetitive behavior patterns, activities, or interests, including the following:

  • Engages in repetitive movements like hand flapping, spinning, or rocking.
  • Performs activities that can cause self-harm, like head-banging or biting.
  • Develops specific rituals or routines, and the slightest change disturbs them.
  • Has odd movement patterns and problems with coordination. The movements include walking on toes, clumsiness, and odd, stiff, or exaggerated body language.
  • Is thrilled by details of an object, for example, the patient can be fascinated by the spinning wheel of a toy but does not understand the overall purpose of the car.
  • Usually sensitive to touch, sound, or light, he/she can be indifferent to temperature or pain.
  • Does not engage in make-believe or imitative play.
  • Fixates of an activity or object with an abnormal focus or intensity.
  • Has specific food preferences, like only eating certain foods and refusing foods with a certain texture.

As they age, some children with ASD become more interactive and engaged with others, showing fewer disturbances in behavior. Some children, especially those with severe symptoms, lead normal or near-normal lives. However, some patients continue to have challenges with social skills and language, with their teen years bringing worse emotional and behavioral problems.

When To Consult a Doctor

Babies are unique and develop at their own pace. Children do not have to follow the timelines explained in parenting books. However, children with autism spectrum disorder show some delayed development signs by the age of two years. If you suspect that your child has ASD or are concerned about their development, you should discuss these concerns with your doctor. The symptoms associated with ASD can also be linked to other developmental disorders.

Signs of ASD appear at an early age. When you notice them, there will be obvious signs of a delay in social interactions and language skills. Your doctor can recommend developmental tests to determine if your child has delays in language, cognitive, and social skills if:

  • Your child does not respond to a happy expression or smile by six months.
  • Does not mimic facial expression or sounds by nine months.
  • Does not babble or coo by the age of 12 months.
  • Does not gesture, like wave or point, by 14 months.
  • Does not say a single word by 16 months.
  • Does not pretend or make-believe by 18 months.
  • Do not say 2-word phrases by 24 months.
  • Loses language or social skills at any age.

The Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder

There is no single recognized cause of autism spectrum disease. Given the disorder's intricacy and its signs and symptoms, there are most likely multiple causes. Genetics and the environment can have an impact.

Genetic Factors

Autism spectrum disorder appears to be caused by a combination of genes. a genetic disease, for example, Rett syndrome or Fragile X syndrome, which can occur in some children, can accompany autism spectrum disorder. Genetic variations (mutations) can increase the likelihood of autism spectrum disorder in some children. Other genes could influence brain development or how the brain cells communicate, or they could influence the severity of symptoms. Certain genetic mutations appear to be inherited, while others emerge spontaneously.

Environmental Causes 

Researchers are presently investigating whether viral infections, drugs, complications during pregnancy, or air pollution can cause autism spectrum disorder.

There Is No Link Between Autism And Childhood Vaccines

One of the most contentious issues in autism spectrum disorder is whether there is a link between the condition and childhood immunizations. Despite significant investigation, no credible study has established a relationship between autism spectrum disorder and any childhood vaccines. Years ago, the original study that sparked the controversy was withdrawn due to inadequate design and dubious research methodology.

By avoiding childhood immunizations, you put your child and others at risk of contracting and transmitting dangerous diseases like whooping cough (pertussis), mumps, and measles.

The Risk Factors For Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is becoming more common in children. It is unclear whether this is due to improved detection and reporting, a rise in the reported cases, or both. Children of all races and nationalities can develop autism spectrum disorder. However, certain factors raise a child's risk. These factors include:

  • Your child's gender — boys are approximately four times more likely than girls to develop autism spectrum disorder.
  • A family history of ASD — families with one child with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to have another child with the disorder. It is also common for parents or relatives of autistic children to have challenges in communication skills, have minor difficulties interacting with others, or portray certain behaviors associated with autism.
  • Other medical conditions — Some medical conditions increase a child's risk of autism spectrum disorder or autism-like symptoms. Fragile X syndrome is an inherited condition that often causes intellectual challenges. Tuberous sclerosis is a neurological disorder whereby benign tumors grow in the brain. Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes slowing of head growth, intellectual disability, and loss of purposeful hand use.
  • Babies born prematurely — Babies born before 26 weeks of gestation are at a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.
  • The ages of the parents — There could be a link between children born to older parents and autism spectrum disorder. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

The Complications Associated With ASD

Children with autism spectrum disorder have challenges with communication and social interactions, which could lead to:

  • Challenges in school and successful learning.
  • Inability to live independently.
  • Employment problems.
  • Stress within the family.
  • Social isolation.
  • Victimization or being bullied.

Diagnosis Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Contact a doctor if you suspect your child has ASD. A correct diagnosis is the initial step toward obtaining your child's help. Your child's doctor can send him or her to a specialist for a more thorough evaluation and diagnosis. Experts who can diagnose ASD (or rule out the presence of ASD) include:

  • Developmental pediatricians.
  • Child psychologists.
  • Child neurologists.
  • Child psychiatrists.

Autism diagnostic and treatment teams can consist of the following:

  • Occupational therapists.
  • Physical therapists.
  • Psychologists.
  • Speech-language pathologists.
  • Developmental pediatricians.

Healthcare providers do not use a specific test to aid in their diagnosis. However, the following ASD assessment tools come in handy:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R).
  • Second edition (ADOS-2).

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

Physical therapists are trained specifically in child development and motor control. This knowledge enables them to evaluate your child's motor delays and functional performance. Physical therapists collaborate with your child, family, and school to help them:

  • Participate in and improve everyday tasks at home and school.
  • Learn new movement techniques.
  • Improve coordination and posture by practicing relevant exercises.
  • Improve play skills by throwing and catching a ball.
  • Enhance motor imitation skills (learn by imitating the actions of others).
  • Improve fitness and stamina.

A physical therapist will thoroughly assess your child while considering their health and developmental history. A physical therapist will also evaluate:

  • Postural control and strength.
  • Functional mobility, including walking and running.
  • Awareness of one's own body and safety.
  • Coordination.
  • Play skills.
  • Motivators and interests.
  • The ability to switch between activities.
  • Your child's ability to jump, hop, pedal on a bike and skip.
  • Routines at home, in the community, and at school.

Your physical therapist will collaborate with you to create goals allowing your child to participate as much as possible at home and school. Your physical therapist will next create a plan to meet the needs of your child and your entire family. There is no "standard" treatment for children with ASD. The challenges and goals of each child are unique. Your physical therapist will tailor a program to your child's strengths and needs. They will collaborate with you to track your child's progress. They will also collect data to ensure that their plan assists your child and adjust it as they progress.

Physical Therapy From Birth To Three Years

ASD can be identified by early delays in your child's movement skills. Reporting symptoms when you notice them allows for early diagnosis, enabling your child to receive the treatment they need sooner.

Physical therapists work alongside patients' families or caregivers. Their goal is to improve a child's ability to participate in daily routines that can be difficult for them.

Physical therapists help your child learn age-appropriate movement skills. They use free and structured play to teach and practice skills with your child. Physical therapists work with your child to improve their strength and coordination. Their treatment plan could involve showing your child how to walk safely and efficiently, as well as how to use stairs.

Your child's physical therapist can prioritize the improvement of imitation skills. They can work with your child on actions to songs, for example, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," as well as indoor and outdoor play skills. Physical therapists work with you and your child to incorporate structure, routines, and physical boundaries into your daily lives. They encourage positive behavior and allow your child to interact with their peers.

Physical Therapy From Three To Eighteen Years (School Years)

Physical therapists work closely with parents and educators. They raise awareness about autistic children. They also assist school personnel in understanding the capacity of your child to function in school. Physical therapists employ the most efficient therapies to help ease your child's challenges. A physical therapist works with you to ensure a positive school experience. Therapists can also recommend changes at home and school to help your child thrive, teach movement skills, and support learning, including:

  • Reducing out-of-seat behaviors by using ball chairs.
  • Whole-class movement breaks.
  • Carpet square, hula hoop, or special seat to mark personal space.
  • Teaching children the necessary skills to enable them to play social games.

When necessary, physical therapists offer direct assistance to enhance a child's ability to deal with challenges; they could work with your child to assist them in dealing with school bus stops, the lunchroom, crowded hallways, and the playground, for example. Physical therapists also collaborate with school teams to encourage self-control, listening, and turning skills. They teach your child techniques that will help them to:

  • Copy other children's movements.
  • Engage in fitness and physical education activities.
  • Develop concepts of body and spatial awareness, direction, and coordination.

Physical Therapy In Adults Above 18 Years

Physical therapists assist adults with ASD in achieving daily success. They suggest using community resources to enhance movement. Therapists also create customized exercise programs. These exercises will help you improve your physical fitness, body coordination, and recreational abilities. Physical therapists work with adults to improve their movement, function, and fitness. These abilities assist people with ASD in obtaining and maintaining employment. They also assist them in functioning at home, participating in activities, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Choosing a Physical Therapist For An ASD Patient

All physical therapists are trained and experienced in treating people with ASD. However, you might want to think about:

  • A physiotherapist with experience handling people with autism spectrum disorder — Some physical therapists specialize in pediatrics (treatment of children).
  • A board-certified pediatric specialist or one who has completed a pediatric physical therapy residency — This physical therapist possesses extensive expertise, experience, and abilities that can apply to ASD.

Tips for finding a physical therapist:

  • Request recommendations from family, friends, and other healthcare providers for a physical therapist.
  • Before scheduling an appointment, inquire about the physical therapist's experience with children with ASD.
  • On your first visit, be prepared to explain your child's and family's needs in as much detail as possible.

Whether There Is a Cure For Autism Spectrum Disorder

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder. However, there are treatments available. Early detection and intervention can improve behavior, skills, and language development. Intervention, on the other hand, is beneficial at any age. Though children with autism spectrum disorder rarely outgrow their symptoms, they can learn to function well.

Find a Reliable Physical Therapist Near Me

Do you need a reliable physical therapist with experience handling children and adults with autism spectrum disorder? Our experts at Suarez Physical Therapy can help. We have provided reliable physical therapy services with outstanding outcomes for decades. We provide quality yet affordable physical therapy services for ASD patients. Contact us at 702-368-6778 to speak to one of our Las Vegas physical therapists.