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Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that appears in early childhood and continues throughout a person’s life. Signs of ASD typically appear before age 3, but symptoms sometimes are not noticed until later.

Autism symptoms may include the following:

  • Problems with communication and eye contact
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Obsessive interests

Because autism can range in severity and symptoms, it sometimes goes unrecognized.

Autism: what you should know

  • Children experience autism symptoms differently, and symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. That’s why it’s important to discuss your observations about your child with your pediatrician. This will help to determine if further assessment is necessary for your child.
  • Below are some common symptoms of autism:
    • No smiling by 6 months of age
    • No back and forth sharing of sounds, smiles or facial expressions by 9 months
    • No babbling, pointing, reaching or waving by 12 months
    • No single words by 16 months
    • No two-word phrases by 24 months
    • Minimal eye contact by age 2
    • Regression in development
    • Any loss of speech or social skills
  • The cause of autism is still not completely understood. Research suggests that both environmental conditions and genetic factors play a role.
  • Although there is no cure for autism, there are a wide variety of treatment options that can provide a positive impact on your child’s development. Treatment can help reduce disruptive behaviors and symptoms. 
  • Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with four times as many boys affected. Autism is found in all socioeconomic classes. 

How can I get help if I suspect my child has autism?

Most health experts agree that early diagnosis and intervention for autism can make an important difference in your child’s life. If you suspect a problem in your child, a good first step is to talk to your pediatrician.

At Rush, pediatricians screen all children before the age of 24 months to see if they are at risk for autism. If there are areas of concern, your pediatrician will recommend that your child undergo comprehensive assessments by a child and adolescent psychologist, pediatric neurologist or a developmental specialist. At Rush, children are often referred to the Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services (AARTS) Center.

Care for autism at Rush

Coordinated therapies and interventions can help meet the unique needs of each person affected by autism. At the AARTS Center at Rush, you’ll find specialists who offer comprehensive assessment and treatment of children, adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder.

The center's staff comprises psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors. As part of Rush, the center has access to other specialists — such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists — who often play important roles in treatment.

The center also works closely with the Rush Day School, which educates and treats children with autism between the ages of 6 and 14.

Assessment

Assessment at the center may include the following:

  • Medical history
  • Neurologic evaluation
  • Genetic testing
  • Metabolic testing
  • CT, MRI and/or PET scan
  • Psychological testing

Treatment

Once clinicians have a diagnosis, they will work with you, your family and your child’s school to develop a treatment plan. Since there is currently no cure for autism, the goal of treatment is address symptoms and bring about improvements.

Treatment options include educational and behavioral interventions as well as medications and other therapies.  Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better. But even when diagnosis is made later, most children with autism will improve with the right combination of treatments.

Specialists at Rush typically address the following:

  • Self-care and feeding
  • Pragmatic, receptive and expressive language
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Applied behavioral analysis (an approach that focuses on the principles behind learning, such as positive reinforcement), intervention and modification
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory processing

Why choose Rush for assessment and treatment of autism?

  • Searching out appropriate supports and services can be daunting, even overwhelming. At the AARTS Center at Rush, experts are available to assist you and your family. Its Autism Resource Center was created to link children and families with appropriate services to improve the development of children with autism and related disorders.
  • The Rush Day School, founded in 1967, is a therapeutic school offering education and treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder ages 6 to 14, and other conditions. The majority of students return to a public or private school in regular education with support.
  • The AARTS Center is dedicated to developing and evaluating behavioral, medical and integrated treatments.

Departments and programs that treat this condition