Autism spectrum disorder has received a lot of public attention in recent years.
This is a good thing.
It means people who may have spent their lives confused about why they feel so different from everybody else can understand that there’s nothing wrong with them.
With the right information and support, you can learn to manage many of the challenges and embrace the unique perspective and experience of life on the autism spectrum.
If you or your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, speech therapy for autism can help.
However, you might have a lot of questions about autism.
That’s why we’ve put together this collection of speech therapy frequently asked questions about autism spectrum disorder.
Your question might be on the list – if not, feel free to book a initial consultation with our Washington DC speech pathologists to find out more.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that affects people from all walks of life.
Autistic people often experience the world differently from allistic people – the word for non autistic people.
Autism is not contagious and is not the result of any medication or parenting style.
It is a neurological condition that people have from birth, as a result of environmental and genetic factors.
The key traits of autism spectrum disorder are social and communication issues and repetitive and restrictive behaviors.
For certain autistic people these traits will be very prominent – particularly in the case of nonverbal autism – while others may have minimal traits or be skilled at masking their autistic traits (read more about masking below).
Some people with autism spectrum disorder can also have intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and other health conditions that further impact their speech and behavior.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed by a pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist based on behavior.
To give an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, a health care practitioner must identify limits in your or your child’s communication and social interaction and observe restrictive and repetitive behavior patterns.
Where can I take my child to get tested for autism? District Speech can help.
Communication and Social Interaction
Across the spectrum, autistic people can have a wide range of abilities and challenges when it come to verbal and non-verbal communication. These can include:
- Partial or complete lack of speech
- Loss of speech abilities
- Echolalia, or repeating back part or all of speech heard from other people or TV
- Repetitive speech
- Speaking in a flat intonation (monotone voice)
Autistic traits can also impact you or your child in social interactions.
Common features of autism spectrum disorder related to social interactions include difficulty recognizing or interpreting social cues, difficulty interpreting body language, and avoiding eye contact.
Restrictive and Repetitive Behavioral Patterns
People with autism tend to rely on familiarity, social scripts, repetitive actions and routine for structure and self soothing.
An autistic person may want to wear the same or similar clothing every day.
They may restrict their diet only to foods they are familiar with, or foods that are similar in texture or flavor.
Autistic people may resist or react strongly to changes in their daily routines or unexpected activities.
Sometimes an autistic person might repeat the same action or behavior for an extended period of time.
This may be a self-regulation behavior known as stimming (read more about stimming below).
Stimming can look like flapping hands or arms, rocking back and forth, spinning in circles, organizing toys or other objects, or playing with toys in an unusual way.
How Do I Know If I’m Autistic?
Autism spectrum disorder affects people of all ages and all walks of life.
As awareness about autism spectrum disorder grows and myths get debunked, more children are diagnosed at an early age and more adults are recognizing signs of autism in themselves.
Some signs that you might be autistic:
- Social interactions are challenging or leave you feeling very tired
- You find it difficult to understand how other people think or feel
- You like to follow a routine and find it troubling if your routine is disrupted
- You have very strong interests in one or just a few topics or hobbies
- You sometimes find it hard to put thoughts or feelings into words
- You notice and are bothered by sights, sounds, and smells that do not seem to affect others
There are just a few possibilities – autism spectrum disorder shows up differently in each autistic person.
In general, however, autistic people of all ages show a degree of social and communication challenges and restrictive or repetitive behaviors.
If you find it hard to make sense of your social interactions, you have difficulty expressing yourself, or you find breaks in routine and changes in your environment to be upsetting or very disruptive, consider completing an autism assessment.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Autistic?
An autistic child can start showing signs of autism spectrum disorder as early as 6 months old, and for many children the signs become more noticeable between the ages of 18 and 24 months.
Due to increasing awareness and improved early childhood assessment autism diagnoses are becoming more common.
There are many behaviors that may indicate autism in young children.
A few examples:
- Your child has not smiled or shown signs of joy at 6 months
- Your child does not respond to their name by the age of 12 months
- Your child does not make eye contact
- Your child gets very upset by changes in routine or unexpected activities
- Your child has noticeable reactions to new sights, sounds, textures or tastes
- Your child makes repetitive movements, like shaking their hands or rocking back and forth, especially when overwhelmed or upset
If you suspect your child may be autistic, it’s a good idea to book an autism screening as soon as possible.
This is because early intervention speech therapy has been shown to be almost universally more effective than the “wait and see” approach.
What is Stimming?
Stimming is a term used to describe self stimulation through movement or sound.
Most people stim from time to time to manage their feelings or thoughts.
You might drum your fingers when you are trying to be patient, bite your nails when anxious, or hum a tune when you when you want a distraction from a scary tool at the doctor’s office.
Stimming is a common behavior amongst autistic people, and it can look a little different from stimming amongst allistic people.
Autistic people may stim to:
- Adapt to new environments
- Regulate an underactive or overactive nervous system
- Manage overwhelming feelings and sensations
- Express frustration
This might look like exaggerated or noticeable movements, making noises, or rearranging objects that do not belong to them or might be considered off limits.
While it may look odd to others, stimming is not necessarily something to be concerned about – it’s usually a harmless form of self management.
In some cases, however, an autistic person might continue stimming to the point of injuring themselves or someone else, perhaps by scratching themselves, kicking or biting, or swallowing things that could cause harm.
If you or your child has been stimming in ways that are causing harm or injury, book an appointment with District Speech to find out how to manage it.
What is Masking?
Although acceptance of autism is growing, there are still many spaces that are not built with autistic people in mind, and many people who do not understand autism and its traits.
When entering these spaces or interacting with these people, autistic people may feel pressure to hide their autistic traits by engaging in social survival strategies known as masking.
Masking can look like:
- Forcing eye contact
- Forcing smiles
- Repressing or disguising stimming
- Mimicking the gestures and laughter of other people
- Rehearsing or scripting conversations and social interactions
- Hiding or downplaying special interests
- Staying in situations with overwhelming stimulation, like a space with loud music or a crowded party
An autistic person might mask because they do not want others to know they are autistic, because they want to feel a sense of friendship or belonging, or because they want to succeed at work.
Masking can lead to a number of health and wellness problems for autistic people, including:
- Anxiety, depression, and stress
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Issues with their identity
It can also lead to a delayed autism diagnosis.
Early screening and diagnosis of autism, on the other hand, can help children learn how to build social skills in healthy ways.
It can also open up access to behavioral therapies and social spaces that encourage strengthening their communication skills rather than hiding autistic traits.
Positive and supportive family and social environments can also help to decrease the impacts of masking in autistic children and adults.
Look for inclusive spaces where you or your child can socialize and feel a sense of belonging without needing to alter natural behavioral tendencies.
This can look like attending clubs or programs focused on a special interest, preparing for new social activities using stories or social scripts, and spending more time with accepting and affirming people.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
There is absolutely no credible, peer reviewed research by any scientific bodies that prove this.
Past studies that made this claim have since been proven false.
Vaccines do not cause autism.
Are There Any Common Comorbidities With Autism?
If you or your child is autistic, they have a higher chance than the average population of certain other disorders and divergences.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Certain autoimmune conditions
- Acid reflux
- Food or environmental allergies
- Chronic headaches
- Social anxiety
- Social communication disorder
Autistic people are also more likely to be transgender.
A 2015 review found that among the transgender community, about 20% of people with diagnosed gender dysphoria also have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
Compare that with about 1% of the population at large.
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How Can A Speech Therapist Help With Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Early therapy with a qualified speech therapist can help autistic people learn to communicate, improving quality of life in the immediate and long term.
Your speech therapist can work with you or your child to identify strengths and weaknesses and build towards using language to communicate and speaking more effectively.
For people who are partially or completely nonverbal, a speech therapist can introduce adaptive devices and alternative methods of communication.
Speech therapy can also help autistic people to understand verbal and nonverbal conversation cues, to make sense of social interactions, and to communicate their needs.
While therapies and adaptations are available at any age, early intervention ensures that speech therapy can have the most impact on children who are still learning language skills.
Book Your Appointment with District Speech Today
Living with autism and caring for an autistic child can offer you a new and unique perspective on the world.
Seeking support from doctors, psychologists, and other licensed therapists in DC – including speech therapists – can go a long way in helping you or your child to learn, adapt, and grow.
If you think you or your child may have autism spectrum disorder District Speech can help assess behavioral patterns and identify treatments for symptoms in need of management.
We offer speech teletherapy sessions online for autistic adults and children who may have trouble with new environments.
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.