Autism Spectrum Disorder

So what is Autism? There is growing public awareness on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by limitations in communication, unusual social skills, and repetitious behaviors. The American psychiatric association (2013) further adds that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typified by stereotyped interests and activities. Hence, autism is considered a spectrum of disorders due to its wide array of characteristics.


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Defining Autism

Boy with autism

Today, more Americans are being diagnosed with autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2019) reports that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism.Also, the CDC reports that boys are four times more likely than girls to develop the disorder. This is a significant rise from the past  As a result of the increase in autism diagnosis, public interest is rising. The increase in public interest is leading to more investigative research on autism, its trend, medical complications and management.


What is Autism: Trends 

Toddler with autism

While there is no cause for Autism, research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors increase the risk of developing ASD (Zuckerman, Lindly, & Sinche, 2016). Though genetic and environmental risk factors are major factors of ASD, preterm infants and certain socioeconomic groups are at greater risk.


Physical Presentation of Autism 

What is autism and what does it look like? Since autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder it is arbitrary to rely on physical features for a diagnosis. ASD does not carry an absolute physical symptom; however, research have pointed to some common traits shared among children with ASD. Examples of these traits are facial asymmetry, abnormal hair whorls, and infant head lag (Ozgen et al., 2013). Researchers also emphasize an increase in morphological features in children with the disorder.

Nonetheless, the link between facial asymmetry and autism spectrum disorder is weakened by counteracting studies that confirm facial asymmetry in more than half of the populace (Thiesen, Gribel, & Freitas, 2015). Due to limitations in current evidence, further research is needed to investigate the physical expressions of ASD.


Clinical Presentation of Autism 

Individuals with autism are among the vulnerable populations. Their various limitations and exceptions place them at increased risk of health inequality. So, to meet the healthcare needs of this vulnerable group, healthcare professionals must learn to recognize the varying clinical presentation of autism.

Proper identification of patients with ASD can promote appropriate treatment interventions.  For instance, a practitioner may notice gaze abnormalities, abnormal motor movement, attention deficit, or hyperactivity disorder in the patient with ASD (Grynszpan et al., 2012).

Children with ASD may be at increased vulnerability to immunologic disorders, seizure disorders, and neuropsychiatric illnesses (Salpekar, 2018). Therefore optimal health outcome depends on parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals’ collaboration in the immediate recognition of the signs of sickness. Therefore it is recommended that healthcare providers adopt an autism spectrum disorder screening tool routinely in their practice.


Psychosocial Presentation of Autism 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by many behaviors: Fixation on routines, arranging objects, hand/finger flapping, echolalia, inappropriate use of objects, and movement behaviors. In addition, extreme diets and sensitivity to various stimuli are also characteristic of the disorder. Individuals with ASD may avoid eye contact, show disinterest in others, or express limitations in understanding personal boundaries.

Though behaviors are manifested differently by each person with the disorder, the American Psychiatric Association (2013) agrees that restrictive and repetitive conduct is among the principal diagnostic criteria.

*Click below to learn the early signs of autism in toddlers

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Practitioners and Autism Management

It is important to develop individualized treatment interventions when treating patients with autism spectrum disorder. Thus, patient and caregiver training and education should be given in the appropriate form fitting to the patient’s challenges and strengths.

Early intervention is imperative to improved outcomes in patients with ASD. Examples of early interventions include applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech language therapy, occupational therapy and sensory integration. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy, and social training are also effective early intervention strategies. 

autism spectrum disorder

Autism Management Continued


Through early diagnosis and intervention, many patients with ASD learn to function independently. However, for those patients with limited decision-making capacity, the practitioner may collaborate with the patient’s authorized decision maker when creating treatment options.

When dealing with patients with limitation in communication, the practitioner should choose the appropriate language fitting to the patient’s language skill level. Also, effective listening and allowing adequate time for patient response can build patient-health provider rapport and strengthen communication. The use of visual aids can prove effective when communicating with nonverbal patients.





American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Blumberg, S. J., Bramlett, M. D., Kogan, M. D., Schieve, L. A., Jones, J. R., & Lu, M. C. (2013). Changes in prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder in school-aged U.S. children: 2007 to 2011-2012. National Health Statistics Reports, 65, 1- 1.

Center for disease control and prevention (2018). Autism spectrum disorder: Data and statistics. Retreived from:

Grynszpan, O., Nadel, J., Martin, J., Simonin, J., Bailleul, P., Wang, Y., & Constant, J. (2012). Self-Monitoring of gaze in high functioning autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 42(8), 1642-1650.

Ozgen, H., Hellemann, G.S., de Jonge, M.V. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2013). Predictive value of morphological features in patients with autism versus normal controls.  Journal of Autism -and Developmental Disorders. 43(1), 147-155.

Pineda, R., Melchior, K., Oberle, S., Inder, T., & Rogers, C. (2015). Assessment of autism symptoms during the neonatal period: Is there early evidence of autism risk? American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(4), 1-11.

Salpekar, J. (2018). Neuropsychiatric effects of epilepsy in developmental disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 31(2), 109-115.

Thiesen, G., Gribel, B. F., & Freitas, M. P. M. (2015). Facial asymmetry: a current review. Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics, 20(6), 110–125.

Zuckerman, K. E., Lindly, O. J., & Sinche, B. (2016). Parent beliefs about the causes of learning and developmental problems among children with autism spectrum disorder: Results from a national survey. American Journal on Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 121(5), 432-447.