Zachary H. Morford, PhD, BCBA-D, Lucero Neri-Hernandez, MS, BCBA, Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
bSci21 Media, LLC
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that characterizes individuals who have difficulties with communication and social interactions, and who have repetitive behaviors or interests. With ASD being represented in TV shows such as “The Good Doctor,” “Atypical,” “Parenthood,” and other media, it can be easy to come away with a misconception of ASD. Here are 10 things that you should know about ASD.
- ASD is a spectrum disorder. The term “spectrum” means that the way that autism looks varies quite a bit from person to person. There is a wide range of skills and abilities among individuals with ASD. Some individuals with autism are completely unable to communicate verbally and have little to no social skills. Other individuals are able to live independently but might have some trouble communicating and interacting with others.
- 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD. This represents a 15% increase over 2012. ASD, however, is more prevalent in boys than in girls. Boys are about four times more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls, at 1 in 37 vs 1 in 151 respectively.
- ASD is diagnosed using the DSM-5. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a publication by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) used to diagnose and provide treatment recommendations for psychiatric and psychological disorders. The criteria for ASD include deficits in social communication, difficulty interacting with others, and repetitive interests or behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ASD is diagnosed reliably by 2 years of age, but can occasionally be detected even earlier. The exact diagnostic criteria for ASD can be found here.
- Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is no longer a diagnosis. Asperger’s syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who first described the syndrome in 1944 based on patients he observed in his clinic. AS usually refers to individuals with ASD who have difficulties with social interactions and communication, but who are otherwise typical in their language and intellectual development. Previous to the release of the DSM-5 in 2013, AS was considered a separate diagnosis from ASD. However, in the DSM-5 it was reconceptualized as a part of ASD, and is no longer a separate diagnosis.
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the treatment of choice. The U.S. Surgeon General endorsed ABA early intensive behavioral intervention as the treatment of choice for autism. “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communications, learning, and appropriate social behavior.” (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, p. 164). ABA is noted for its accountability to therapists based on objective, quantifiable, measures of socially-significant behavior change.
- If you know one person with autism…you only know ONE person with autism. Although children and individuals with ASD share some of the diagnostic characteristics listed above, not everyone’s diagnosis is expressed the same way. Some examples of individuals with ASD that we know include a young man in his 20s who graduated high school top of his class and received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, TX; a 6-year old boy who could read and write fluently and who, in his spare time, would write the ending credits of Toy Story from memory; and a 12-year old who could not speak, could only communicate using gestures, and was extremely aggressive towards his caregivers.
- Autism on TV typically depicts individuals who are very high functioning. TV producers should be commended for including prominent individuals with ASD in their shows. For example, the Netflix show Atypical explores the social and family life of a teenage boy named Sam on a quest to find love. The audience should know that these characters are not representative of the broader ASD population—all of them can speak and typically either have independent living skills at the beginning or develop them over the course of the show. The unfortunate reality is that most individuals with ASD have more severe difficulties than those that are represented on TV, and many of them will require support from caregivers throughout their lives.
- There is no cure for ASD, but it can be treated. As stated above, the way ASD looks for each person varies greatly. Consequently, the treatment for each person will be completely customized based on their needs and the needs of their family or caregivers.
- Early Intervention for ASD. As mentioned above, ASD can be detected very early in life. The evidence shows that those who begin frequent and sustained (typically 25-40 hours per week) interventions prior to pre-school age will have improved outcomes compared to those who don’t. Some individuals who receive early interventions may even catch up to their typically developing peers. For more on Early Intervention, see the Verbal Beginnings blog.
- Treatment for ASD can be covered by health insurance. Beginning July 1, 2014, current procedural terminology (CPT) codes were provided by the American Medical Association (AMA) in recognition of applied behavior analysis (ABA) as an empirically supported treatment for individuals with ASD. These codes are used to bill insurance companies for outpatient medical procedures. As of June, 2017, 46 states and Washington, DC had laws requiring insurance coverage for autism services.
If you are a parent looking for more information on autism treatment, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for additional resources.
Zach Morford, PhD, BCBA-D, has been in the field of behavior analysis for 10 years. In that time, he has worked in varied areas of behavior analysis, including autism, animal training, OBM, education, and instructional design. Dr. Morford has also taught undergraduate and graduate behavior analysis courses at three different universities, presented internationally, trained behavior analysts in Italy and Saudi Arabia, and published peer-reviewed papers in multiple behavior analytic outlets regarding applied, experimental, and theoretical issues. His primary interest in the field is the large-scale application of behavioral principles to issues of social importance. Currently, Dr. Morford serves as the Executive Director of the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis (TxABA), and is the co-owner and founder of Zuce Technologies, LLC, a small-business consulting and instructional design company. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Lucero Neri-Hernandez, MS, BCBA holds two BA degrees in Rehabilitation Studies and Applied Behavior Analysis and a MS degree in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas (UNT). Lucero has worked to help minority and low socio-economic high school students apply and attend college, brining over 60,000 2nd to 9th grade students to UNT’s campus to experience college life and higher education—a 200% improvement over the previous year. As a graduate student Lucero designed and taught university courses, provided clinical services for undergraduates, and co-chaired and organized the professional conferences, and trained domestic and exotic animals. Lucero also worked in a life skills classroom in a public middle school, where she and her colleagues improved the problem solving of the staff and students in the class skills using an approach known as Talk Aloud Problem Solving (TAPS).
Lucero is an experienced educator and instructional designer, and has designed and implemented several educational strategies, including Direct Instruction, Precision Teaching, TAPS. As a BCBA, educator, and researcher with several years of experience working with people with disabilities and other underrepresented populations, Lucero is deeply passionate about using her skills and experience to improve peoples’ quality of life through education programs and various access to resources.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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