Autism

“A serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.”
Autism is a spectrum of closely-related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Every individual on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social skills, communication, empathy, social relatedness, restricted activities, and flexible behavior. However, the level of disability and the combination of symptoms varies widely from individual to individual. For example, two children with an autism spectrum disorder may look very different in regard to their behavior and abilities. Further, just because a child has a few autism symptoms may not mean the child has an autism spectrum disorder.

Diagnosis

In order for Spark to make a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, it is necessary to demonstrate the following three key areas.

  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Behavior

Communication

The child exhibits deficits in social communication and social interaction as evidenced by:

  • (1) persistent failure of the child to engage in normal back and forth conversation with others through reduced sharing of interests or emotions or,
  • (2) complete withdrawal from interacting with others.
The student must also demonstrate deficits in nonverbal social communicative behaviors either by:

  • (1) abnormalities in eye contact or body language
  • (2) deficits in the understanding and use of nonverbal communication such as facial expressions or gestures, or
  • (3) total lack of any facial expression.

Relationships

In addition, the student must also demonstrate deficits in developing and maintaining relationships, appropriate to the child’s development level, as evidenced by difficulties adjusting behavior to suit different social contexts. This can be seen in a child’s difficulty in sharing imaginative play and making friends or an apparent lack of interest in people.

Behavior

Finally, the student has to demonstrate at least two symptoms of restricted, repetitive behaviors or interests.

  • Repetitive motor movements or stereotyped use of objects or speech
  • Inflexible adherence to routines or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior
  • Highly fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment
These symptoms are manifest in the early developmental period but may not become evident until the social demands of school exceed the child’s capacity to relate to others.

Test Battery

Spark uses a variety of measures to assess for ASD.

  • The child is observed in school in both structured and unstructured settings.
  • The child’s speech and language abilities are assessed.
  • Measures of cognitive and achievement are administered.
  • Information on the child’s early history is obtained from the parent along with parent reports of current behavior.
  • Information is also obtained from teachers about the child’s behavior in school.
  • Data is also gathered from school and private records along with reports provided by other relevant informants.

Psychological screenings with the parent, teacher, and possibly the child are conducted using the Behavior Assessment System for Children-3 (BASC-3).

Instruments specific to ASD include:

  • The Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS)
  • The Childhood Autism Rating Scales-2 (CARS-2)
  • The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS-2)
  • The Gilliam Asperger Disorder Scale (GADS)
  • The Gilliam Autism Rating Scale-3 (GARS-3)
  • The Autism Diagnostic Interview-2 (ADI-2).
No one measure is used to establish a diagnosis of ASD. Instead, the evaluators look for data consistent with ASD that occurs across (1) several instruments and several contexts and (2) information provided by parents, teachers, and private practitioners which supports an ASD diagnosis.

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