What is autism / autism spectrum disorder?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that usually appears in late infancy or early childhood and is characterized by deficits in functioning in social skills, repetitive behaviours, ritualistic obsessions, speech delays and abnormalities in nonverbal communication.
Autism spectrum disorder is expressed in many forms on a broad spectrum and is highly individualized. Because there is no one size fits all description, recognizing autism in a child is sometimes challenging.
Depending on the nature and seriousness of characteristics, autism can be enormously challenging, but it can be managed, lessened, and in some cases, overcome to the point of bringing about neurotypical functioning.
Armed with good information and supports, parents can help their children reach their highest potential and be supported by other parents, educators and clinicians along the way. While autism spectrum disorder is complex both clinically and personally challenging, you and your child are not alone. St.Amant is a Canadian leader in autism research, education, treatment, care and advocacy, and we’re here to help every step of the way.
The information on this website is designed to help you to better understand autism, to navigate the process of diagnosis, and to see all the options St.Amant can provide for your child and family.
I think my child might have autism spectrum disorder. What should I do?
Autism spectrum disorder’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between two and three years of age, although some parents and doctors notice signs earlier. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 12-18 months. Some developmental delays can be identified and addressed even earlier.
If you suspect your child may have autism, St.Amant urges you to contact your family doctor or pediatrician without delay. There are often waiting lists for programs and you’ll want to take advantage of an opening as soon as possible.
Your child’s pediatrician or your family doctor can refer you to an assessment clinic for testing and diagnosis. Doctors, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and clinical psychologists are professionals who can diagnosis autism spectrum disorder.
In Manitoba, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (and other disabilities) can be referred to the child development clinic at Specialized Services for Children & Youth (SSCY), and Children’s disABILITY Services (Manitoba Family Services).
SSCY assists families who have children with developmental and/or physical disabilities who have needs arising from the disability. Learn more about the programs and services offered through SSCY here.
A community services worker is assigned to each child. This individual informs parents of resources and services available to them – including speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and respite. A community services worker will make referrals and provide support as needed.
Learn more about Children’s disABILITY Services and how referrals are made here.
Why is early diagnosis so important?
- The critical importance of early diagnosis and intervention is well-established in scientific research. Intervention taking place between one to four years of age is closely associated with significant advances being possible in cognition, language, daily living skills, and social behaviour. Early diagnosis is also strongly associated with long-term improvements in quality of life for children with autism spectrum disorder, and provides benefits to parents and families.
- Delayed diagnosis can also limit eligibility for some programs, treatment and access to education and family support programs funded by Manitoba Health.
Myths about the causes of autism spectrum disorder?
Studies have repeatedly ruled out vaccines as a cause of autism. In fact, there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism.
Researchers also have no scientific evidence that a child’s psychological environment, such as how caregivers treat the child, causes autism.
How common is autism spectrum disorder?
The 2018 National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System (NASS) report estimates that one in 66 children in Canada have autism. This includes one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls.
How can I get help for my child?
If you are concerned or wondering if your child may have autism, extensive scientific research demonstrates that early intervention and treatment can bring about positive outcomes for your child’s social and life skills development.
Contact your family doctor or pediatrician and ask for a referral to a child development assessment clinic, such as Specialized Services for Children and Youth (SSCY Centre).
From there, if your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you can apply to gain access to St.Amant’s Autism Programs.
Need a family doctor? The Family Doctor Connection line through Manitoba Health provides a listing of doctors in your community who are accepting new patients.
To find a family physician in your area, call:
Toll free: 1-866-690-8260
Manitoba Relay Service 1-800-855-0511
The Child Development Clinic (CDC) provides assessment and referral support for preschool-aged children who may have developmental concerns. When families visit CDC, they may see one or several staff who specialize in child development – a developmental pediatrician, social worker, clinical psychologist, or other early childhood developmental specialists and/or therapists.
My child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. What services does St.Amant provide?
You can apply for your child to participate in St.Amant Autism Programs after you have received a verifiable diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
St.Amant’s Autism Programs provide support to children and adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The program uses applied behaviour analysis (ABA) as a teaching method to increase skills identified by the child and their family.
The effectiveness of early intensive behavioural intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder is supported by decades of research and has the most scientific support.
The primary goal is to make learning an enjoyable experience for children and their families. The program offers effective, individualized teaching based on a comprehensive assessment designed to understand a family’s priorities and their child’s needs. Priorities and goals are selected in collaboration with families, with the overall goal of providing family-centred service to support the goals of interests of each family.
Autism programs at St.Amant are funded by the Province of Manitoba.