Autism Spectrum Disorders

Diagnosis, treatment and resources

Autism spectrum disorders are brain disorders in which a child shows varying degrees of deficiency in social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. These disorders include Autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome.

The causes of autism spectrum disorders are unknown, but research is being done to understand more about these complicated, lifelong disorders.

Read our Autism brochure for more information.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders

There is no medical test that can detect and diagnose autism. The diagnosis is made through observation of a child’s communication, behavior, and developmental milestones by a multidisciplinary team of professionals.

There are many indicators of possible autism spectrum disorders, including:

  • The child does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by the time he/she is 1 year old
  • He/she does not speak one word by 16 months of age
  • The child does not combine two words by age 2
  • A child does not respond to his or her name by age 1
  • Loss of language or social skills

If you have concerns about these or any other behaviors, please discuss them with your child’s pediatrician. If your child is diagnosed, it is helpful to keep a notebook or log of all the information you gather.

Treatment of autism spectrum disorders

There is no cure, nor one single best treatment for all children with autism spectrum disorders, but early diagnosis and early intervention are key to achieving greater positive results. Most individuals respond well to highly structured, specialized educational programs, so it is important to gather as much information as possible about the many educational treatment programs available, and make a decision based on your child’s needs.

Medication may be prescribed when self-injurious behaviors or other behavioral symptoms are present. Family members may also find it helpful to seek outpatient counseling services to assist in coping with an autistic child. Early intervention programs are available for children younger than age 3. Your child’s pediatrician can refer you to a program.

Helpful resources

Parenting a child with autism can be challenging. It is essential for you as a parent to understand the diagnosis in order to assist your child in coping with his or her autism. It is also important that you make time to care for yourself.

Parental support/resources

Parent’s Resource Network Line
Created by the Parent/Professional Advocacy League for support and information on mental health services for children

Parent Advocacy League (PAL)
Provides support, education, and advocacy around issues related to children’s mental health

Educational support/resources

Massachusetts Department of Education
If your child’s symptoms are interfering with his or her academic performance, Massachusetts’ 766 law enables you to make a request for an evaluation by your child’s school system. For further information, contact your local school system.

Massachusetts Advocates for Children
617-357-8431, ext. 234
Autism Special Education Legal Support Center

Additional resources

National Institute of Mental Health
Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses

Autism Society
800-3-AUTISM or 781- 237-0272 (Massachusetts chapter)
The leading voice and resource of the autism community in education, advocacy, services, research, and support

Autism Link
Help for parents of autistic children including opportunities for support, inclusion, and free information

Child Development Institute
Fact sheets and various information and resources on autism

Source: National Institute of Mental Health; United States Department of Education