Companion Benefit Alternatives

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

ASDs affect 1 in 68 children in the United States, including 1 in 42 boys. While all children develop differently, there are warning signs that a child may have an ASD.

Treatment is most effective when started at a young age. This makes early detection very important — as a parent, your best tool is being informed.

Types of ASDs

ASDs include different diagnoses. Symptoms range from mild to severe depending on the diagnosis. The most common are:

  • Autism: Children with autism usually display language, communication and social delays. Children develop normally then withdraw. Many children engage in repetitive behaviors.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome: Those with Asperger’s Syndrome generally have milder symptoms of autism. They typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disabilities. They might have impaired social skills and difficulty communicating with others.
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD): Children with PDD usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autism. Children are often more social, but have communication problems.

Signs and Symptoms

ASD symptoms begin before age three. Early screening can tell if your child is at risk. While the symptoms last throughout a person’s life, they may improve over time. These symptoms may indicate that your child is at risk for an ASD:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or after
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Treatment

If you think your child has an ASD, make an appointment with your child’s doctor as soon as possible. Early treatment can improve outcomes.

ASDs are treated by a team of professionals. The group can include a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, occupational therapist and pediatrician.

The first step in diagnosing and treating ASDs is to perform tests, including neurological and psychological assessments, plus cognitive and language tests. The results will set a baseline and help your child’s team develop a treatment plan.

There are many different therapies to treat ASDs, including:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy helps children learn and improve skills. It encourages positive behaviors. Children’s progress with ABA can be measured and tracked.
  • Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR): DIR is also called floor time. DIR is a multidisciplinary approach that involves parents, teachers and therapists. DIR takes place in the child’s environment during play time.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy works on fine motor skills.
  • Speech Therapy: Speech therapy helps improve communication skills.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): PECS uses pictures to teach communication skills.

Your team will work together to find out what works best for your child. Your benefit plan may not cover all of these therapies. Check your benefits to find out what your plan covers.

Getting Help

If your child has an ASD, help is available. You can start by: 

  • Educating yourself about ASDs and treatment options.
  • Joining a support group. To find one in your area, visit: