By Brooklyn Storme
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that is most usually diagnosed in childhood and can effect children’s abilities to socialise, communicate effectively and make sense of abstract information. Children with this condition often experience challenges with body movement. For example, they may be more clumsy than their peers, experience difficulty with handwriting or engage in repetitive movements (some children might flap their arms and hands, for example).
Sensory discomfort is also an indicator of ASD. For example some children need to have the tags removed from clothing, others become distressed if sauce on the dinner plate touches neighbouring food, other’s become distressed when there is loud noise. Some children do not like the sensation of water on their head, or hair brushing either. Other children have trouble coping with unexpected change to routine. It’s important to know that these are only examples of symptoms and behaviours and do not necessarily mean that your child has ASD if you can recognise them.
So what is Asperger’s Syndrome then?
In 2013 the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome along with Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, was replaced in favour of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM provides the guidelines that specialists use to determine the presence of a formal diagnosis. Autism is now diagnosed in terms of severity over three levels and in terms of the condition’s impact social functioning and fixed or repetitive movements.
How is ASD diagnosed?
It is usual for a team to coordinate the assessment, findings and interventions. Usually, a Psychologist will conduct an assessment and this may include observations of the child at the practice, educational setting or home; documentation for parents or caregivers including educators to complete and a psychometric assessment for example.
Usually the child is also assessed by a Speech Therapist and or an Occupational Therapist. These findings from the allied health practitioners are all provided to the Paediatrician who then conducts their own investigations such as blood tests for other possible causes of symptoms you might be seeing. This is necessary because one of the diagnostic criteria for assessing ASD is that the symptoms are not better accounted for by another medical condition.
There are a number of ways that ASD can be treated. These can include therapies, medications (if indicated by the Paediatrician) and specialist supports. Therapies can include things like Social Skills Training, Anger Management and Applied Behaviour Therapy. Often these are provided by Psychologists. Specialist supports can also include health practitioners such as, but not limited to, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Paediatricians and Behaviourists.
In order to access treatment, your Paediatrician may provide you with a referral to the relevant professional but not all therapists require one in order to support your child. You will need a referral though if you want to claim money back from Medicare for some services.
Where a child’s condition and circumstances meet the designated eligibility criteria, they may be able to access funding toward the full or partial cost of treatment. A Mental Health Plan from the doctor will enable rebates to be claimed against the cost of Psychological treatment for a maximum of 10 sessions per calendar year. It does not mean that the treatment is ‘free’ unless the Psychologist chooses not to charge you a fee.
A Chronic Disease Management Plan (formerly known as an Enhanced Primary Care Plan or EPC) allows rebates to be claimed through Medicare towards the cost of services for a range of health professionals including allied health practitioners for a maximum of 5 appointments per calendar year. Some people can use this in addition to the Mental Health Plan.
For school-aged children, there is the Program for Students with Disabilities accessible through schools. Usually either a parent or a teacher will initiate the process to apply for funding. The school will need a copy of the most recent assessment(s) indicating the diagnosis/diagnoses, treatment and recommendations to be provided to them so that they can submit an application. If it is approved, the funding can be used toward the cost of hiring an aid to support your child at school with things like learning and socialisation.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) became available in our area a few months ago following successful pilots in various locations around Victoria. I think the NDIS is very exciting and has the potential to really support those impacted by ASD. With NDIS, you are a customer that has the right and the freedom to choose what services you need and who to purchase them from, as opposed to being a client and advised of what to do, who to do it with and when. My favourite aspect of NDIS is that services are not rationed. Instead, supports are based on your goals now and throughout your lifetime.
To apply for NDIS or find out more information, you can contact them online at www.ndis.gov.au and many organisations also offer free checklists that you can use to ensure you prepare adequately for your application.
Interesting Facts about ASD
- More than 1 in 100 children in Australia today are diagnosed with ASD and the prevalence continues to rise. It is difficult to determine if the number of children with ASD has been consistent over time or if the increase in prevalence is now due to our ability to better identify the condition and diagnose it.
- In Australia, for every 1 girl diagnosed, 4 boys are diagnosed and we don’t know why. Investigations into genetics, education and environment are currently being conducted at places like the Murdoch Institute.
- Autism is now referred to as spectrum disorder because research shows that many of us have autistic traits.
- While generally accepted that ASD is a lifelong condition there is also research that shows that with early intervention, some children no longer meet the diagnostic criteria required for ASD in later life.
- While they experience various social and emotional challenges, some children with ASD will excel above and beyond their non-autistic peers in some areas and be identified as having a unique or special talent.
Did You Know . . .?
- Lewis Carrol, the author of Alice in Wonder Land;
- Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft;
- Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple;
- Albert Einstein;
- Daryl Hannah, Hollywood movie star;
- Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science
. . . have all been diagnosed with ASD?
Dr. Brooklyn Storme, PhD is the Director and head psychologist at All Psyched Up, a mindfulness-based allied health practice on the Mornington Peninsula. When she’s not at work, she’s usually teaching Gabe new tricks or spiking up his purple Mohawk.
Ph: 8765 2434