All Posts Tagged: autism spectrum disorder

Counseling Adults with Autism

Our very own Dr. Ali Cunningham recently released a book, Counseling Adults with Autism. The cover art for the book was produced by a local man with autism, Michael Vidal (pictured here with Dr. Cunningham).

Counseling Adults with Autism is a practical guide for counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals looking to improve their confidence and competence in counseling adults diagnosed with mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Organized into 11 chapters based on key areas for guiding assessment and treatment planning for this population, this book highlights evidence-based practices and therapeutic interventions through case examples to demonstrate how assessment and treatment can be applied. Replete with insights from a variety of disciplinary approaches, this is a comprehensive and accessible resource for practitioners looking to support and empower clients struggling with social and behavioral challenges. Buy the book here.

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Boy with heart shaped paper

Autism Spectrum Disorder: ASD And Anxiety In Children

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) comes with a variety of challenges. For many children, it can mean issues with compulsiveness and repetitive behaviors, learning and social deficits, and a resistance to change. ASD also can manifest with various emotional difficulties – although not specifically linked, we know that ASD and anxiety frequently appear together in children.

Kids with ASD and anxiety can have physical symptoms (example: racing heart or a stomach ache) or their anxiety may also show up in the form of rituals that can help calm them (for instance: shredding paper). Because many autistic children are either non-verbal or have trouble communicating, an outward display of anxiety may be their only way of telling you that they are distressed.

Autism And Anxiety Comorbidity

“40% of young people with ASD have clinically elevated levels of anxiety or at least one anxiety disorder, including obsessive compulsive disorder”, according to an article by Dr. Elisabetta Burchi and Dr. Eric Hollander of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

They stress the importance of anxiety treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder. “While untreated comorbid anxiety has been associated with the development of depression, aggression, and self-injury in ASD, an early recognition and treatment may convey better prognosis for these patients“.

Some studies have shown that high-functioning children suffer from more anxiety disorders than do lower functioning children on the spectrum. Additionally, other research reports that adolescents and teens with ASD may be more challenged by anxiety than their younger peers.

How To Recognize Anxiety In Asperger’s and ASD

It can be difficult to spot the signs of anxiety in a child who has ASD for a couple of reasons: kids who are verbal may not be able to recognize and express their emotions, while children who are nonverbal can’t tell you that they are afraid or worried.

Also, children with ASD often display common behaviors that can look similar to those found in anxiety disorders. For example, the compulsions that are carried out in obsessive compulsive disorder can look much like the repetitive behaviors that a child with ASD will use, however the autistic child may not actually be anxious.

Although there are no specifics to watch for, anxiety often presents in the form of physical or behavioral issues. The signs may not be apparent in a younger child, but may show up in later years as they mature and their world expands to include school and other settings.

  • Social anxiety may show up in the form of avoidance of social situations. This keeps the child from experiencing interaction with peers and the opportunity to practice social skills.
  • Separation anxiety may be present if the child acts out when being parted from their parent, such as when a babysitter comes to the home or when the child goes off to school for the first time.
  • Phobias are anxiety responses to specific fears (i.e. fear of insects or acting out after being startled by a loud noise).
  • Distress about changes in routine can show up in the form of physical rituals or repetitive behaviors that the child uses to soothe themselves until they can calm down.
  • Controlling behavior or threats to hurt themselves or someone else are often a sign of high levels of emotional distress.
  • In adolescents and teens, alcohol and drug abuse are destructive coping methods that may be used to mask anxiety.

Treatment For Autism And Anxiety

Research has shown that behavioral interventions are helpful for many ASD children who have anxiety. One of the most effect therapies for treating autism and anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy is best for a child who has some verbal abilities.

CBT teaches kids how to uncover the fear beneath their anxiety so they can challenge their negative or inaccurate thoughts. For instance, if a child has anxiety about going to school, they may actually be afraid of getting lost and not being able to find their parents again.

Once the fear has been identified, the therapist can use small doses of exposure therapy to provide the child with evidence that they are safe. In the case of school anxiety and the resulting fears surrounding being separated from a parent, exposure therapy might involve having the child spend a minute or two in a room without their parent. When mom or dad come back in, the child feels safe. As the length of time apart from their parent increases with an end result of the parents returning, the child’s anxiety level can begin to decrease when they are away from the parent in other situations.

Depending on the child, an anxiety medication, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Prozac, may also be used in combination with behavioral therapy.

Need More Information About ASD And Anxiety In Children?

Our warm and welcoming Children’s Center offers a wide range of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services specifically for children ages two through twenty two.

For more information about how our child psychologist can help your child with their ASD and anxiety, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

 

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Vaccines and Autism – Is There a Connection?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that autism, classified as a developmental disability, is on the rise in the United States and around the world. Currently, about 1 child out of every 68 will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Obviously, when there is an increase in a disorder or disability, people begin to look for reasons for that change. Because signs of ASD can be seen as early as the age of two, the focus has been on potential factors a child may experience early in life that could contribute to an autism diagnosis. From birth, children receive many and varied immunizations, so fears have been raised of a possible connection between these vaccines and autism.

In particular, there have been concerns about the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that had been used in MMR and other inoculations. Since 2003, nine studies have been conducted into the relationship between thimerosal and ASD, however the Institute of Medicine has determined there is no link between the vaccine and the development of autism.

In reaction to fears over whether thimerosal in vaccines and autism were related, between 1999 and 2001, the preservative was either removed from vaccines or reduced to negligible amounts. Today, this preservative is only found in some flu vaccines and is limited to use in multi-dose vials. If you are still worried, you can request your child receive a thimerosal-free vaccine.

Lastly, a 2013 study by the CDC determined there is no link between vaccines and autism. It looked at the number of antigens that help the body’s immune system fight disease and found no difference between children with ASD and children without the disorder.

Then, What Causes Autism?

There are many categories of disability along the autism spectrum and, at this time, specialists haven’t found any one specific reason for the development of autism. The CDC is conducting research to find out if the disorder has environmental, biological, or genetic causes.

We do know there are factors that can indicate a more likely chance of a child developing autism. These components are:

  • Children with autistic siblings are more likely to develop the disability.
  • Children born to older parents are more likely to be at risk.
  • It is thought that the critical developmental time for ASD is in utero, or in the period during or immediately after birth.
  • The prescription medicines valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked to a higher ASD risk in the infant, when these medications were taken during the pregnancy.
  • ASD occurs more often in people who have certain chromosomal or genetic conditions (for example: Fragile X Syndrome).

Early Signs of Autism

Autism can affect either gender, but occurs about 4.5 times more often in males than in females. It is found in every cultural, socioeconomic, and racial background, although it is more prevalent in white children than in African-American or Hispanic children.

People with ASD may have problems communicating or interacting with others, or may have difficulty focusing or learning. Additionally, early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder may include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Lack of interest in objects or in relating to people
  • Becoming upset if routines change
  • Unusual reactions to stimuli, such as smells, tastes, textures, or sounds
  • Repeating words or phrases or repeating actions over and over
  • Preferring to spend time by themselves

Diagnosis, Evaluation, and ASD Treatment

The earlier a child is diagnosed and begins treatment, the better their chances of reaching their full potential. ASD treatment and early intervention can begin as soon as 3 months of age. Although there is no cure for ASD, early intercession can reduce the severity of a child’s developmental delays and can teach them important skills.

If you are concerned about your child and the way they interact with you or others, the way they learn, or the way they speak or act, the first step is to call your child’s pediatrician and share your worries. Your child’s doctor can help answer your questions and, if alarmed, should refer you to specialists for further evaluation. Psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatric neurologists, and/or developmental pediatricians have been specially trained to assess and diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder.

If you need a free assessment, you can contact your state’s early intervention programs. To find out more about your particular state’s Child Find evaluation, visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Our Children’s Center Can Help

If you have questions about the early signs of autism, treatment and intervention, or other autism-related concerns, the professionals at our child-focused department, The Children’s Center, can help. For more information, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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