Symptoms and what to do if you think your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What is autism?

Autism affects the development of the brain and changes how a person communicates socially, their sensory experience and how they learn and behave. Autism can be evident as early as two years old. It is a spectrum condition, which means there is a wide variation in how it expresses itself in children. We do not know the origins of autism, although genetics are thought to play a part. Therapies can help provide children with the supports necessary to maximally benefit from learning opportunities.

How do I know if someone has ASD?

The symptoms of ASD vary significantly from person to person. However, there are some common symptoms that you can look for.

Some people with autism may be non-verbal or lose their language as a toddler. Others may be highly verbal, but display trouble with social interactions, limited emotions and challenges with behaviour.

Some may seek sensory stimulation from their environment by touching and interacting with their world in unusual ways, while others may avoid eye contact, loud noises, bright lights and over-stimulating environments.

Autism is diagnosed by professionals according to certain criteria.

What can I do if I think my child has ASD?

It is important to immediately contact your health care provider with your concerns as early diagnosis is important and there is usually a waiting period for assessment.

Research shows that the earlier a child is accurately diagnosed and starts receiving treatment, the greater their chance of making the most developmental gains. Your health care provider can make a referral to the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN). Families can access assessment through the BC Autism Assessment Network at Sunnyhill Hospital in Vancouver. Or they can pay out-of-pocket for assessment at a private clinic, which can speed up diagnosis.

After diagnosis, families can apply to the Government of B.C autism funding program for interventions for their child using professionals such as behaviour consultants, behaviour interventionists, occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists. Families can find eligible intervention providers on the Registry of Autism Service Providers (RASP) list. The Government of B.C. also has a parents' guide to autism programs in five languages.

What if I think my school-aged child may have ASD?

Some individuals can go undiagnosed until later in life when the demands of school or work bring out the symptoms of ASD, especially if they are on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum. You can learn more about the process for older children through Autism Community Training's Autism Manual for B.C.

AutismBC also has good information on school-aged diagnosis and the Government of B.C. has a guide for school-aged children.

Are there support groups for families living with ASD?

As caregivers of children with developmental disabilities, families can face increased stress. It is important for parents to practice self care and to reach out when they need help. Our mental health and substance use section can offer information on maintaining mental wellness and accessing community services such as caregiver support.

AutismBC society offers resources for families living with ASD, including community support groups. The Autism Support Network offers online support groups and holds social events in B.C.

The Pacific Autism Family Network is another good resource, offering therapy, social programs, and education for families.

The Canucks Autism Network is a B.C. charity that offers subsidized social and sports programs for children with ASD and their siblings and families.