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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a neurological disorder that affects social interactions, communication, and other behaviors. Patients with autism may require accommodations during appointments. They may also react differently to treatment than patients without an autism diagnosis. The following tips will help you effectively serve patients with ASD.
The initial diagnosis and assessment of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should include a thorough behavioral assessment, developmental (prenatal, early childhood, and later childhood) history, and often genetic testing.
No currently available medications have been demonstrated to specifically improve social and communication functioning, the core features of ASD. Development of social and communication skills generally requires behavioral treatments, and an optimal treatment plan will include behavioral treatments and supports.
There is evidence that medications can be helpful in addressing some symptoms that are common in individuals with ASD, including anxiety symptoms (for example panic attacks); major depression; irritability, tantrums, self-injurious behaviors; inattention and hyperactivity; interfering repetitive behaviors; and seizures. For many of these symptoms, there are both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic (behavioral) treatment options that can be considered.
Behavioral treatments that have the largest evidence base in ASD are based on applied behavior analysis (ABA). Clinicians trained in ABA are called behavior analysts or board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs). These clinicians can carry out a functional behavior assessment to determine the antecedent events (events preceding a behavior) and consequent events (events that occur after a behavior) that tend to shape the occurrence of the behavior. They often collect data on the frequency, severity, and timing of behaviors, as well as antecedent and consequent events. They can design behavioral interventions that can reduce the occurrence or severity of interfering behaviors, and promote learning of adaptive behaviors. Psychopharmacologic treatment is best conducted in collaboration with behavioral specialists, so that a coordinated treatment plan can be implemented, and so that the effect of both pharmacologic and behavioral interventions can be tracked by data collection.
Other components of an overall treatment plan for individuals with ASD may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, supports in the context of school or work, and vocational rehabilitation.
Because med checks are typically brief, it can be very helpful to ask individuals and family members to prepare some information ahead of time and bring written notes on the following:
Sources: The National Autistic Society Patients with autism spectrum disorders: guidance for health professionals-www.autism.org.uk.
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.