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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.
Autism is characterized by the presence of disturbance of functioning before three years of age in one or more of the following areas:
Likewise, people affected by ASD usually have the following characteristics:
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 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) and applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, 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.
There has been less academic research on anxiety disorders than depression. Therefore, structured assessment tools such as questionnaires are less sophisticated and well-developed than in the field of depression. Some simple questionnaires are available online, which can help you determine if you might have an anxiety disorder. Doctors use operationally defined criteria such as those in ICD-10. Anxiety disorders are usually diagnosed by a doctor or psychiatrist after a review of the patient’s symptoms and a general health assessment. Occasionally, physical causes can be found, such as hyperthyroidism. Commonly, symptoms occur with no clear concurrent medical illness. For patients where a physical cause is suspected, or where the condition does not respond to treatment, blood tests, urine tests, and occasionally brain imaging are necessary.