‘Children with autism are still children’: Understanding autism spectrum disorder


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Amber Spertina said she had her suspicions that her son was autistic when he would not respond to his name and had difficulty communicating. Both characteristics are common symptoms of autism.

Spertina said her son, Giovanni, began showing signs of autism at the age of 1.

“He would not speak, he would groan. He would hold things close to his eyes and rock back and forth and he would line things up by color,” she said.

Once Giovanni reached the age of 2, Spertina took him to be screened by their pediatrician, who then referred the pair to a neurologist. That’s when Spertina learned her son has level 2 ASD, as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Spertina said receiving a diagnosis for Giovanni was a relief because she could now get him the resources he needs to live a fulfilling life.

“It takes a lot of time for a parent to fully grasp because, unfortunately, I feel like in society, a lot of people see autism as an end all be all, like it’s the worst thing that can happen and that’s so far from it,” Spertina said, adding that other parents should not be afraid to get their children screened.

April is Autism Awareness Month, a time for the community to better understand the developmental disorder.

Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 54 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In the United States, the prevalence of being diagnosed with autism has more than tripled within the past two decades.

ACES is a center in El Paso that offers services for the autism community, as well as other behavioral disorders. The center prides itself on creating treatments specific to every client, striving to enhance the life of those with special needs.

“ASD was a number of symptoms before it became autism spectrum disorder … but now they’re all grouped into one,” said Stacy Estrada, area director for ACES.

Those syndromes include Asperger’s, Pervasive Development Disorder (not otherwise specified), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett’s Syndrome.

Estrada explained that autism is considered a spectrum because of the different severities that affect each patient. These severities are separated by three levels with Level 1 being mild, level 2 is moderate and level 3 is the most severe.

Those with level 1 ASD are considered high functioning with symptoms present but the need for support is minimal.

Those diagnosed with level 2 ASD express slight language and personality traits of autism. Symptoms are mild and may include verbal communication difficulties, routine habits and repetitive behaviors.

People with level 3 ASD require substantial support and may show significant difficulties with communication and social skills. Repetitive behaviors are also present and they may be overly or under-sensitive to certain sensory inputs.

Estrada recommends that parents test their children as early as possible so that they can begin working on social, communication and behavioral skills at a young age. Health experts say symptoms can begin to develop any time after birth, but usually appear between the ages of 18 months to 24 months.

ASD continues to be researched, and while there are many unknowns related to the disorder, one thing remains true, and that is children with autism are still children. “They are affected by all the same things a typical child would feel or need,” said Estrada.

“There are so many different people in this world, who isn’t different?” Spertina asks, hoping that with every Autism Awareness Month that goes by, the community will grow to better understand and accept those who go through life with a different perception of the world around them.

“There’s absolutely nothing an autistic child can’t do that a normal child can, it just means you have to go about accommodating things in a different way,” said Spertina.


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