Understanding ASD

It seems that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is becoming much more common in Australia.

understanding ASD

But first – what do we mean by Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Children with ASD may experience difficulties with sensory stimulation, and within the spheres of social and communication skills. These issues may in turn present many challenges to parents as they try to manage their child.

ASD is defined as: “lifelong development disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities” (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2015, para. 1).

Although ASD is a lifelong condition, therapy and structured support can definitely assist with these social, communication and sensory difficulties (ABS, 2012).

How Many Children are Affected by ASD?

Data shows the prevalence of ASD is increasing in Australia, a trend which has been noted across the globe.

In 2012, an estimated 115,400 Australians (0.5 percent) had ASD, an increase of 79 percent on the 64,400 people estimated to have the condition in 2009 (ABS, 2012).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey showed that ASD was four times more likely to occur in males than females, with prevalence rates of 0.8 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.  Prevalence rates increase from birth, peaking between 5 and 9 years old and dropping off as age increases (ABS, 2012).

Reasons for the increases in prevalence are controversial and may be explained by:

  • changes to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM);
  • increasing awareness and a greater willingness to diagnose; and
  • the introduction of ASD into special education systems in mainstream schooling.

In years gone by, ASD was referred to as “childhood schizophrenia”. It was only in 1980 that the DSM first provided a diagnosis and criteria for children with autism.

From DSM-III to DSM-IV, in 1994, increases in specific details of diagnosis, including a reduction of the number of specific criteria to be met, may have led to increases in diagnosis (ABS, 2012).

Weintraub (2011) stated the increased prevalence may be partially explained by a heightened awareness of ASD, therefore reducing fear around the label of ASD.  A diagnosis of ASD became included in the school special education system in the 20th Century, increasing awareness and management of ASD (Angloinfo, 2016).

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder

At times, a school may identify symptoms of autism in a child and suggest an assessment to confirm or deny this diagnosis.  Schools may advise this in order to receive additional government funding, to better assist the child with their educational requirements.

The process may involve a cognitive test and a test of everyday functioning, which may then be diagnosed by a paediatrician, psychiatrist or neurologist.

A psychologist can administer the neurological assessments required for diagnosis of ASD, and manage the process while working with other professionals such as the child’s GP, paeditrician or psychiatrist, teachers and of course, parents. This process may include an Intelligence test (or IQ test), and an adaptive functioning assessment which assesses the child’s daily functioning.

If you have concerns about your child and would like an assessment, or support and assistance following a diagnosis of ASD, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with me.

Cassandra Gist Child Psychologist BrisbaneAuthor: Cassandra Gist, BPsych (Hons), MPsych, MAPS.

Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist works with clients aged from two years old right through to adulthood. She has a special interest in working with children and their families around the diagnosis and treatment of issues such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist, try online booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.