Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that often appears in the first three years of life. ASD affects how the brain develops. People with this condition have trouble with social skills and communication. About one in 68 people has ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Care at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
- Groups, Classes & Support
- Research & Clinical Trials
- Symptoms, Diagnosis & Outlook
Care at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Our ASD specialists understand that each person with this disorder is different. We use the latest treatments and determine which ones are right for each individual.
A number of treatments work well for people who have ASD. The care team at Penn State Health may use:
- Applied behavioral analysis (ABA). This encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones.
- Social skills training groups. These help children with ASD learn social skills from their peers who do not have this condition.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This targets symptoms that can occur along with ASD, such as anxiety or depression.
At this time, there is no drug that treats the core problems of ASD. However, some medicines can help people manage the disorders that often occur along with ASD.
Two drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat irritability and aggression in children and adults with ASD. They are:
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Aripiprazole (Abilify)
Penn State Health has special programs that treat autism spectrum disorder. These include:
- Social skills groups for teens and young adults with ASD
- A program designed to help people with ASD who are moving into adulthood
- Outpatient therapy for people with ASD who also have anxiety or depression
- A medication management program to treat anxiety, depression, sleep problems, aggression or other behavior problems that can occur along with ASD
- Assessments for people who think they may have ASD but have not yet been diagnosed.
- Mental health assessments for people with ASD
People with ASD can also get help through one of our specialized research programs.
- Group therapy for social skills from early to middle adolescence
- Group therapy for social skills from late adolescence to early adulthood
- Individualized program for adolescents to help them transition to adulthood
Groups, Classes & Support
People with ASD and their families can find help and support through the Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training (ASERT) Center. Hershey Medical Center is the ASERT Center for our region. Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Bureau of Autism Service, ASERT provides a statewide resource center staffed by regional specialists.
ASERT can connect you with support groups in your area as well as online and in community trainings. Visit ASERT at www.paautism.org. You can also contact ASERT Central Resource and Communications Specialist Andrea Layton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research & Clinical Trials
We have an active clinical science research program, and we frequently seek volunteers to participate in clinical trials. These studies help our scientists improve diagnostic techniques, develop better treatments, and collaborate with other researchers.
To see all clinical trials and learn how to volunteer, visit StudyFinder
Symptoms, Diagnosis & Outlook
People with ASD have trouble with social interactions and communication. Their interests may be very limited. They may also show repeated patterns of behavior and activities.
ASD symptoms often start in early childhood. However, they may also appear later. For example:
- Children with severe ASD may be diagnosed as early as 12 to 18 months of age.
- Children with milder ASD may not show major symptoms until early in their teen years.
- Some people with ASD are not diagnosed until they are adults. They have often been diagnosed first with other mental health conditions.
ASD has risen steadily over the past few decades. The CDC estimates that about one in 68 children in the U.S. has this disorder. This increase is due in part to greater awareness of ASD and also how it is diagnosed.
It’s not clear what causes ASD. Most scientists agree that it has more than one cause and both genes and environment play a role. Although there are claims that vaccines can cause ASD, no scientific studies have linked ASD and vaccines.