Autism Spectrum Disorders - Diagnosis and Management

Sharmila Banerjee Mukherjee
Indian Journal of Pediatrics 2017, 84 (4): 307-314
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder commonly seen in children. It is characterized by age inappropriate, impaired social communication and the presence of stereotypic behavior. This disorder is hypothesized to result from cerebral dysfunction arising from a complex interaction between genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. ASD should be suspected in children failing ASD specific screening tests, in the presence of red flags in social, language and/or play domains, in children with developmental or language delay, abnormal behavior, poor school performance or in those who are at high risk. Comprehensive assessment comprises of a step-wise approach that includes taking a detailed history, performing a holistic examination and observing the child closely in relation to play, social interaction and behavior. Diagnosis is established by application of the diagnostic criteria for ASD of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM V). The degree of severity, intellectual and language impairment and presence of other illnesses should be specified. Functional assessment identifies an individual's strengths and weaknesses. All these are important to formulate a customized intervention plan along with the family. The goal is to build up skills enabling optimal and as far as possible normal functioning while simultaneously reducing maladaptive behavior. This is achieved by a multi-disciplinary team comprising of various personnel experienced in tackling issues in ASD related to their respective areas of expertise. Intervention is primarily non-pharmacological, based on behavioral modification strategies. Drugs are only indicated in the reduction of target symptoms refractory to behavioral intervention. Although there is no cure, timely and appropriate intervention can improve the quality of life significantly.

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