Autism Spectrum Disorders


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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder covers a series of neurological and developmental disorders that begin in childhood and last a lifetime. It is mainly characterized by deficiencies in communication and social interaction, usually accompanied by restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Following the publication of DSM-5, Autism is considered to be a spectrum disorder because different symptoms and severities can be contained within the same disorder. Asperger syndrome is included within ASD. Although ASD was considered a childhood disorder, it is now accepted that it continues into adulthood and, especially in cases of mild severity, it is sometimes diagnosed during adolescence or adulthood.

ASD Intro Infographic

Table of Contents

Symptoms And Characteristics

Autism is characterized by the presence of disturbance of functioning before three years of age in one or more of the following areas:

  • Social interaction and communication
  • Behavioral patterns
  • Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped interests and activities

Likewise, people affected by ASD usually have the following characteristics:

  • Deficit in socio-emotional reciprocity. They lack the basic social skills of listening, empathy, emotional expression and reciprocity.
  • Deficit in nonverbal communication behaviors. They have problems identifying and acting out the necessary physical behaviours to exercise nonverbal communication, that is, their gestures, signs and facial do not match the situation.
  • Deficit in the development, maintenance and understanding of relationships. It includes difficulty controlling their behavior in different contexts, difficulty to engaging in imaginative play, and in severe cases complete disinterest in others.

It is also important to highlight some strengths related to ASD. For example, individuals with ASD are often able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time. Many are strong visual and auditory learners, which means that they learn by seeing or hearing new information. Moreover, individuals with ASD tend to excel in math, science, music or art.

Assessment Of ASD

The assessment of ASD usually starts with the developmental evaluations that doctors commonly do to babies and young children. The doctors can observe if the development of the child has been delayed or if presents characteristics not common for their age. If the doctor suspects that the child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, a full evaluation by a group of Mental Health professionals will be necessary.The appropriate evaluation for the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders should include not only adequate Psychological Tests, but also systematic observation in different contexts, and interviews with those involved in the care of the child. In some cases it is also necessary to do medical exams to rule out other diseases or medical conditions. That is why the Assessment of ASD is usually a team work between psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians and neurologists.

Treatment Of ASD

Treatment of ASD is oriented toward interventions with the aim of improving the quality of life of the affected person and their family. These interventions can be grouped into three areas: biological, psychological and social or lifestyle interventions. Biological intervention refers mainly to the use of psychiatric medication in severe cases. The medication must be chosen with great care by the doctor, and usually helps specific symptoms, such as inattention, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. However, there is no medication that globally decreases the symptoms of ASD, and more research is needed in the area. 

Psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are available as well. Their objective is to improve the person’s behavior while reducing negative symptoms such as anxiety. Social or lifestyle interventions go hand in hand with psychological intervention and focus on controlling problematic symptoms and acquiring the skills necessary for daily life (personal care, social skills, work skills). Early intervention programs (from infancy to six years of age) have proven effective in reducing autistic behaviors. However, the prognosis for cases of ASD depend to a great extent on the level of severity. Their development is often unpredictable. Each case must be studied specifically to determine the best strategies.

Tokyo Mental Health offers both counseling and psychological therapies for people with ASD, provided by a team of licensed and experienced professionals. Please feel free to make an appointment or ask us any questions. Online therapy is available as well.

Resources in Japan

General Resources

  • Keyaki no Sato (The Zelkova Home) is an institution in Saitama prefecture built in 1985 by a group of 21 parents of autistic children. The facility provides activities and employment opportunities for adults and children with ASD. Their recent activities include a stage performance at Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater: “Tabie! Jiheisho no Musukorato” (“Let’s Go on a Trip! With Our Autistic Sons”), a play based on a book written by Yoshiko Abe, cofounder of the institution, and the mother of an autistic son.

  • The Japan Dyslexia Society is an NPO that is active in a wide range of activities, including government lobbying, consultancy, LSA (Learning Support Assistant) training sessions, as well as workshops on simulating dyslexic conditions.

  • The Autism Society of Japan consists of 25 directors and 46 counselors. The society has a membership of 6500 individuals and associate members and 7 organizations. The scope of activities promoted by the society includes counseling, research and study, and publication.

Educational Resources

    • Autism spectrum disorder is in the School Education Act as a discrete category of disability in Japan. Children with autism are taught at schools for special needs education (SNE). They can attend classes for SNE in regular schools. According to a report by the National Institute of Special Needs Education (NISE), an estimate of 20,000 children with autism attend schools for SNE, 48,000 are in classes for SNE, 7,000 using resource rooms and 84,000 in regular classes.

    • Among some alternative educational choices in Tokyo, the Montessori School of Tokyo, for example, is an international school that operates in English and utilizes a Montessori method. The curriculum accommodates students with wide academic abilities, from highly gifted children to students with Asperger syndrome (a milder form of ASD). The Musashino Higashi Gakuen, located in the Musashino city of Tokyo, is an institute for both regular and autistic students from kindergarten through high school.