What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

About AutismAutism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) represents a complex developmental disability characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication‌, and repetitive or restricted activities and interests. ASD is described as a "spectrum" because individuals with a diagnosis of ASD vary widely in their symptom presentation and severity. Some individuals present with such mild symptoms that the disorder may go largely unnoticed by others. In more severely affected individuals, repetitive movements and preoccupations might be present. Some severely affected individuals may never develop the ability to speak or may exhibit self-injurious behaviors. Many individuals with ASD go on to live independent, productive, and fulfilling lives, and others may need life-long support and care. In all cases, individuals with ASD or other related conditions can benefit from the appropriate treatment.

Common Early Signs of an Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Difficulties responding to his/her name
  • Limited interest in reciprocal social activities (peek-a-boo)
  • Limited pointing at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over)
  • Limited pretending during play (pretend to "feed" a doll)
  • Difficulties making appropriate eye-contact
  • Delayed language
  • Obsessive or unusual interests
  • Unusual and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., flapping/waving hands or walking on tip toes)
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

How are Autism Spectrum Disorders Diagnosed?

The recognized “Gold-Standard” in diagnosing ASD involves a comprehensive evaluation by a professional with extensive knowledge and training in the area of Autism Spectrum Disorders. There are currently no blood tests, brain scans, or physical examinations to detect autism. Rather, a diagnosis is made based upon clinical presentation, and is determined via criteria described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). A diagnosis of ASD can only be made if an individual meets the criteria for ASD that are outlined in the DSM-5. These criteria include deficits and atypicalities related to Social-Communication and Restricted/Repetitive behaviors.

Every member of the ASAC team has extensive clinical training and experience in the area of human development and the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Among our ASAC team are published authors in the areas of ASD, behavior intervention, transition to college, diagnostic screening, social behavior, and co-occurring disorders. We also have nationally recognized speakers, professors, and experts in the areas of neuropsychological assessment and learning differences, as well as bilingual assessment specialists on our evaluation team. At ASAC, our clients also benefit from the wealth of knowledge and combined expertise afforded us by our location at a prestigious research university. State-of-the-art research projects in the area of ASD, including genetic, MRI, and brain imaging studies, are being conducted on an ongoing basis at the University of Miami. Our presence in an academic setting means that you can trust ASAC to be well-informed about cutting-edge research findings, as well as the most recent gold-standard assessment techniques and treatments.

Unlike other evaluations, our detailed assessments take pace over the course of several weeks, using multiple interviews and the very latest in testing instruments and techniques. At ASAC, we believe that every person is unique and special, and as such, we tailor each evaluation to the needs of the individual. At the end of the evaluation process, our clients are provided with an in-depth feedback session along with a professional report detailing our findings. Although each family is different, we understand the significant impact of receiving a diagnosis. As such, we place a great deal of emphasis on answering the "what now?" questions by providing detailed and personalized recommendations to each family.

Can Autism Spectrum Disorders be Treated?

The short answer is YES. Although currently, there is no known "cure" for ASD, there is substantial evidence that individuals can make remarkable progress with appropriate therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism-- impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines or interests. Most experts in the field agree that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.