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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder associated with impairment in reciprocal social communication and social interaction as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. 1 in 66 children in Canada and 1 in 54 children in the USA have been diagnosed with autism.

Ofner, Marianna, A. Coles, M. Decou, M. Do, A. Bienek, Judy Snider, and A.U. 2018. Autism spectrum disorder among children and youth in Canada 2018. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.
Christensen, D.L. et al. 2016. Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years - Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveillance Summaries. (2016).

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) causes a shortfall in social communication and social behavior, for example, problems understanding nonverbal gestures, developing friendships and adapting to environmental change.

American Psychiatric Association, Of, M. and Disorders, M. 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5.

Both Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are common conditions which affect around 1%-5% of the population. While ASD is typically associated with impairments in language development and social skills, ADHD is correlated with reduced attention and higher levels of impulsivity and hyperactivity. Although both conditions show up differently, they are related in that both may affect a child’s ability to set goals, pay attention and self regulate. Research has also found that approximately 70% of cases of ASD, show clinical symptoms of ADHD.

Gargaro, B. A., May, T., Tonge, B. J., Sheppard, D. M., Bradshaw, J. L., & Rinehart, N. J. (2018). Attentional mechanisms in autism, ADHD, and autism-ADHD using a local–global paradigm. Journal of Attention Disorders, 22(14), 1320–1332. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1177/1087054715603197

The tendency to avoid eye contact and not follow the adult gaze is one of the earliest indicators of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children. For many individuals, this tendency persists throughout childhood and into adulthood. The eyes hold a huge component of communicative information, so avoiding eye contact can result in many missed opportunities for social and emotional learning during childhood. One model ( the hyperarousal gaze aversion model) suggests that eye contact is uncomfortable for individuals with ASD, as it activates certain brain regions (limbic regions and amygdala ) which creates a state of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is a state in which the individual is highly alert and can have increased anxiety and an elevated heart rate alongside other symptoms. In typical development, eye contact is associated with an “intrinsic” reward, for example: positive experiences with eye contact in social situations will motivate the individual to make increased eye contact. However, researchers argue that due to hypo-activation of the amygdala, individuals with ASD do not pair eye contact with a reward. The good news is that eye contact can be taught through therapy, and children can learn to pair eye contact with a reward.

Trevisan, D. A., Roberts, N., Lin, C., & Birmingham, E. (2017). How do adults and teens with self-declared Autism Spectrum Disorder experience eye contact? A qualitative analysis of first-hand accounts. PLoS ONE, 12(11). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1371/journal.pone.0188446

It is often assumed that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) lack empathy due to their limited social interactions. However, this is an unsubstantiated conclusion, as empathy depends on the context and doesn’t just mean one thing.Researchers define empathy in two ways: trait empathy(a general tendency)and state empathy (empathy as a result of a specific event).State empathy is often short-term and depends on the context ,whereas, trait empathy is consistent over time similar to a personality trait. Studies have shown that individuals with ASD usually have impaired trait-cognitive empathy.Which means that individuals with ASD have difficulty in understanding the intentions, mindset and feelings of others. Lastly, it is important to note that empathy is also relative to culture, as there are cultural differences in expressions of empathy.

Song, Y., Nie, T., Shi, W., Zhao, X., & Yang, Y. (2019). Empathy impairment in individuals with autism spectrum conditions from a multidimensional perspective: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01902

Both Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are present in 1-3% of the population and are likely to occur in the same person. OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsive behaviours. Obsessions are recurring and unwanted thoughts and urges, while compulsions are repetitive behaviours which are executed to reduce the anxiety associated with the obsessions. ASD, on the other hand, is a developmental disorder which is characterized by impairments in communication, social interaction as well as the prevalence of repetitive behaviours. A recent study found that individuals with an initial diagnosis of OCD are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD later on in their lives.

Nakagawa, A., Olsson, N.C., Hiraoka, Y. et al. Long-term outcome of CBT in adults with OCD and comorbid ASD: A naturalistic follow-up study. Curr Psychol 38, 1763–1771 (2019). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1007/s12144-018-9952-1
Flygare, Oskar, et al. "Adapted cognitive behavior therapy for obsessive–compulsive disorder with co-occurring autism spectrum disorder: a clinical effectiveness study." Autism 24.1 (2020): 190-199.

Today, many parents of autistic children seek support using digital technologies and services. Online support groups for parents of autistic children have been shown to ease stress, provide opportunity to connect, and give a sense of belonging. Two-thirds of parents of children with ASD used support groups. However, only a small number of studies acknowledge the use of online groups.
In an interview study of twenty-two parents about their experiences with using the internet revealed a number of positive aspects, including: receiving access to information and services, connecting with others, and increasing advocacy. That said, the challenges parents reported are significant, in particular, the high prevalence of confusing and negative information. Therefore, while online support groups for parents of autistic children are beneficial, more directed effort is required to ensure that parents have access to carefully high-quality resources.

Clifford, T. 2011. Support Groups for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Predictors and Effects of Involvement.
Clifford, T. and Minnes, P. 2013. Logging on: Evaluating an online support group for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 43, 7 (2013), 1662–1675. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1714-6.
Mandell, D.S. and Salzer, M.S. 2007. Who joins support groups among parents of children with autism? Autism. 11, 2 (2007), 111–122. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361307077506.

Studies have established the efficacy of internet-delivered training for parents on methods and procedures related to behavioral interventions [19]. Such online parent training can be particularly valuable for parents who live in remote areas; for example, a study used an online program designed to train parents of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. The course was self-paced. The findings showed that most parents are able to comprehend basic skills needed to address their children communication and behavior issues [29]. In studies comparing online self-directed interventions with therapist-directed online intervention, it was found that parent engagement is better for therapist assisted groups when measured in terms of number of logins, duration on site and intervention completion [27, 28].

Hamad, C.D., Serna, R.W., Morrison, L. and Fleming, R. 2010. Extending the reach of early intervention training for practitioners: A preliminary investigation of an online curriculum for teaching behavioral intervention knowledge in autism to families and service providers. Infants and Young Children. 23, 3 (2010), 195–208.
Ingersoll, B. and Berger, N.I. 2015. Parent engagement with a telehealth-based parent-mediated intervention program for children with autism spectrum disorders: Predictors of program use and parent outcomes. Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Ingersoll, B., Wainer, A.L., Berger, N.I., Pickard, K.E. and Bonter, N. 2016. Comparison of a Self-Directed and Therapist-Assisted Telehealth Parent-Mediated Intervention for Children with ASD: A Pilot RCT. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46, 7 (2016), 2275–2284. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2755-z.
Karr, V., Brusegaard, C. and Van Edema, A. Online Parent Training: A Pilot Programme for Children with Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Bangladesh. 29, 3, 56–70. DOI:https://doi.org/10.5463/DCID.v29i3.616.

Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder occurs in children as young as 18-36 months in age, so that families can be provided with resources. Experts on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) believe that it is critical to provide children, diagnosed with ASD, specialized childhood education in their formative years of schooling. This ensures a solid foundation for future educational experiences. Children diagnosed with ASD need additional support in areas such as social interaction and managing repetitive behaviours. Children with ASD typically have difficulty following routines, using language, processing sensory inputs, and participating in activities. Fortunately, many classrooms incorporate visual cues and sensory toys that help with emotional/self-regulation and time management. The good news is that most classrooms permit students to bring in items that can help them calm down, if the need arises.

Martin, C. S. (2016). Exploring the impact of the design of the physical classroom environment on young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 16(4), 280–298. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1111/1471-3802.12092
Martin, Caren S. "Exploring the impact of the design of the physical classroom environment on young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)." Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs 16.4 (2016): 280-298.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) doesn’t go away, as it is a pervasive developmental disorder, and there is no cure. Children diagnosed with ASD can have a range of symptoms from mild to severe and can be further categorized as either high-functioning or low-functioning. High Functioning autism refers to individuals with average to above average intelligence, highly developed language skills but notable deficits in social functioning. On the other hand, low functioning autism describes individuals with an intellectual disability and impaired social communication. While certain behaviours (self-injurious, repetitive or compulsive) might not go away entirely, many developmental studies have found that the frequency and intensity of these episodes decrease from childhood to adulthood. Furthermore, with regular therapy sessions, these behaviours can also be effectively managed. So, the good news is that while ASD doesn’t go away, many of its core behaviours can be significantly reduced.

Bagatell, N. (2010). From cure to community: Transforming notions of autism. Ethos, 38(1), 33–55. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1111/j.1548-1352.2009.01080.x

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) vary widely across different age groups and gender. Studies that look at development over time have found that social functioning improves as children develop into adults. Studies have also found that improvements in social interactions decrease after exiting high school. Furthermore, some studies have indicated that repetitive, compulsive, and self-injurious behaviours are reported less frequently and are less severe in older individuals with ASD. Although children with ASD have a slightly different developmental trajectory, the explosive growth in cognitive skills which occurs from childhood to adulthood can possibly explain improvements in behaviour.

Wallace, G. L., Dudley, K., Anthony, L., Pugliese, C. E., Orionzi, B., Clasen, L., Lee, N. R., Giedd, J. N., Martin, A., Raznahan, A., & Kenworthy, L. (2017). Divergence of age-related differences in social-communication: Improvements for typically developing youth but declines for youth with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(2), 472–479. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1007/s10803-016-2972-5

Currently, there is no single explanation for the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, through various twin studies (comparing identical and fraternal twins) it has been established that there is a genetic component to the etiology of ASD. For example: Identical twins are more likely to both have ASD, than fraternal twins, as identical twins have the exact same genetic material. Although genetic influences largely explain the occurrence of autism, environmental issues also play a role.

Talebizadeh, Z., & Shah, A. (2020). The AutGO initiative: A conceptual framework for developing genetics‐outcomes research hypotheses. Autism Research, 13(8), 1286–1299. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1002/aur.2331
Hens, K., Peeters, H., & Dierickx, K. (2016). The ethics of complexity Genetics and autism, a literature review. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 171(3), 305–316. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1002/ajmg.b.32432

Almost 40% of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Children diagnosed with autism often have difficulties navigating social relationships due to the communication challenges associated with the condition. This may contribute to symptoms of social anxiety and cause social withdrawal. Studies show that awareness of one’s own social challenges and the fear of negative social evaluation contributes to increased symptoms of anxiety among youth. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is an intervention that has been used to treat anxiety in children diagnosed with ASD, and a recent meta-analysis has also found it to be very effective. Also , creating structured patterns of social interactions might help reduce anxiety in children especially if they struggle with the unpredictability of social situations.

Lei, J., Sukhodolsky, D. G., Abdullahi, S. M., Braconnier, M. L., & Ventola, P. (2017). Reduced anxiety following pivotal response treatment in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 43–44, 1–7. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1016/j.rasd.2017.09.002
McVey, A. J., Schiltz, H. K., Haendel, A. D., Dolan, B. K., Willar, K. S., Pleiss, S. S., Karst, J. S., Carlson, M., Krueger, W., Murphy, C. C., Casnar, C. L., Yund, B., & Van Hecke, A. V. (2018). Social difficulties in youth with autism with and without anxiety and ADHD symptoms. Autism Research, 11(12), 1679–1689. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1002/aur.2039