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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder

April is autism awareness month. Throughout this month we’ll be posting information about autism spectrum disorder. This first post is focused on explaining autism and outlining the criteria used to see if someone has an autism spectrum disorder. 

An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impacts an individual throughout their lifetime. Someone is born with ASD, although they may not receive a diagnosis until differences become more impactful and/or noticeable, depending on the severity of differences.  ASD, like other types of differences, tend to occur more often in families. This means that if one person in a family has ASD-related differences, other people in the family may also have similar differences. ASD is often said to occur along a “spectrum”, which means that the way differences present can vary greatly from person to person. These differences in presentation are likely impacted by a combination of genetics (genes) and environmental factors, although researchers continue to explore these theories. Since ASD occurs along a spectrum, differences in communication, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive patterns will be uniquely present in each person. 

To receive a diagnosis of ASD, differences must be present within two different categories: 1) communication and social skills and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. 

  • Communication and social skill differences can include:

  • Preference for solitary play

  • Lack of eye contact

  • Very direct eye contact

  • Aversion to displays of affection

  • Difficulties carrying on a back-and-forth conversation

  • Trouble making or keeping friends

  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities: 

  • Hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to sensory input (e.g., seeking out or avoiding certain textures)

  • Strong preference for routine

  • Deep interest in one topic

  • Lining up or sorting items (instead of “playing” with them)

Treatment for ASD varies, depending on an individuals’ needs, and can include: 

  • Occupational therapy (e.g., to build fine motor skills, gross motor skills, improve reactivity to sensory stimuli, and/or build self-help skills like independent toileting and more)

  • Speech and language therapy (e.g., to learn and practice conversational skills)

  • Individual therapy (e.g., to build coping skills) 

  • Group therapy (e.g., often to focus on social skills)

  • Parent therapy

  • Medication, which can help support related symptoms (e.g., inattention, irritability, etc.). It is very important to note that there is no medication that treats communication and social differences or restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities 

If you have concerns about your child’s social and communication skills, development (a specific area or in general), or have noticed differences in yourself, please reach out. Your child’s pediatrician or your primary physician can be a great place to start. Early identification of differences is crucial to finding the right supports and interventions! There are a number of organizations within Minnesota (where Monarch Learning & Attention Center is located), as well as nationally, that support individuals who have ASD-related differences and their families. Below are a few organizations: 

Autism Speaks has information and resources for individuals and families 

Dr. Liz Angoff has information about how to explain autism to children, as well as video and visual resources 

U of M Social Skills Groups is geared towards students with social and communication differences who are interested in building their social communication skills

Guiding Bright Minds has a two-part series focused on Finding Flexibility, Structure, and Support for families

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