Everything You Need To Know About Autism

Overview | Types | Causes | Symptoms | Risks factors | Complications | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention  

What Is Autism?

Autism often refers to an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because it is a broad term in itself and the term ‘spectrum’ means a wide range of symptoms and severity.  Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a condition related to brain development) that affects the social interaction, behavior, and communication of a person. An individual suffering from autism or autism spectrum disorder is called autistic. The features of autism often appear in the early years. People with autism or ASD often demonstrate a restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped pattern of behavior.  

Autism is considered a common disorder in India, with 1 million cases per year. This disorder can be found in anyone, regardless of age, gender, etc. The learning, thinking, and problem–solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.

As some autistic people need help every 24×7, even to perform basic tasks; whereas command problem people may not need much help or help for some special or difficult tasks only.

ASD is a broad term that includes autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD – NOS), and Asperger syndrome. All these conditions inclusive called Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Who Is More Likely To Get This Autism Disorder?

Although anyone can develop autism (by birth) but it is founded that males are more affected by autism than females. Boys are at 4 times the high risk of autism than girls.  

Fact: The CDC estimated in 2014 that nearly 1 in 59 children have been identified with ASD.

Types Of Autism:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in their 2013 edition, recognizes the 5 different subtypes. They are as follows —

  • With or without accompanying intellectual impairment
  • With or without accompanying language impairment
  • Associated with a known medical or genetic conditions, or environmental factors
  • Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder. 
  • With catatonia

Causes Of Autism:

There is no single cause to blame for autism, till now. Since its symptoms, complexity, and severity vary, therefore there can be many causes of autism. Some of the commonly known causes of autism are as follows —

  • Genetic disorders
  • History of viral infections
  • Genetic mutations
  • Defect in the communication of brain cells
  • Being born to older parents
  • Defected genes may affect brain development
  • Low birth weight
  • Environmental factors
  • Metabolic imbalances
  • Early disruption of brain growth
  • Preterm birth
  • Exposure to heavy metals
  • Gender (boys are at 4 times high risk than girls)
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Having a twin who is autistic
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Fatal exposure to certain medications etc.

Symptoms Of Autism:

Some children show the signs of autism within few months after birth, or in some cases, it takes about 2 years of age to have any symptoms of autism.

Those children who have signs and symptoms from their infancy are unable to learn new things like the normal ones. Whereas, those who expert symptoms after 2 years of age begin to lose language skills they have acquired yet.

Each autistic child can have a different level of severity and unique pattern of behavior. Some children can have low intelligence levels, while some suffer to learn new things. Even if some children have a high level of intelligence, still they are unable to apply it in their daily life.

Some of the signs and symptoms are shown by autistic people are as follows —

Social communication and interaction

  • May not respond when you call them by their names
  • Appears as if they didn’t hear you
  •  Difficulty in understanding the non-verbal cues such as someone‘s expressions, voice tone, etc.
  • Approaches social interactions by being disruptive, aggressive, or passive
  • Lacks facial expressions
  • Poor or no eye contact
  • Doesn’t share an interest
  • Rarely speaks  
  • Delayed speech
  • Doesn’t expresses feelings
  • Appears unaware of other’s feelings
  • Poor communication 
  • Unable to understand usual things like directions etc.
  • Speaks with abnormal tones, such as robot-like speech
  • Repeat words or phrases in an inaccurate manner

Behavior patterns

  • Has specific food preferences such as eating only selected veggies or texture foods.
  • Repetitive movements
  • Doesn’t show imitative behavior
  • Can cause self harm unknowingly
  • Becomes disturbed at the slightest change
  • Sensitive to light, sound, and touch
  • Odd movement patterns
  • Exaggerated body language etc.

Usually, those children who have the least symptoms may lead a normal or almost normal life. While those who have severe symptoms may need special attention and care always.

Risks Factors:

  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Other medical conditions
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Rett syndrome
  • Extremely preterm birth
  • Parent’s age (parents with old age can be the cause of autism development in the child)
  • Having a sibling with ASD
  • Use of certain prescribed drugs during pregnancy

Children May Develop:

  • Depression
  • Seizure
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Sleep disorder
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Diabetes

Complications:

Lack of social interaction, problems with behavior and communications can lead to —

  • Difficulty in learning
  • Problems in school
  • Employment problems
  • Bullying
  • Social isolation
  • Victimization
  • Inability to be independent
  • Stress within the family etc.

Diagnosis:

Diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorders is not an easy task, because there is no any specific tests like blood test etc. Which can help to diagnose autism. Still, diagnosis of autism includes several different screenings, tests, and evaluations.

A child with autism gets diagnosed either in infancy or within 2 years of birth, mostly.

Screening – Screen g can not only help in the early identification of autism but also benefits from diagnosis and interventions. Mostly, the M-CHAT tool is used for screening. It is to be clear that screening can not replace diagnosis at all.

Some screenings and tests are as follows:

  • DNA testing for genetic disorders
  • Occupational therapy screenings
  •  Behavioral evaluation
  • Autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS)

Treatment Of Autism:

There is no cure for autism now. But early intervention can help your child to get a better life. The early intervention period is from birth to 3 years of age of the child. Talk therapy can be used to help your child talk, walk or interact with others. Therefore it is important to bring your child to a specialist doctor, if you feel any symptoms of autism or other disorders, as early as possible. Other therapies like speech therapy etc. Cam also be included in the treatment options.

Prevention:

There is no way to prevent autism or ASD. The only thing that can help your child to live an (almost) normal life is early intervention and treatment. As treatment can help your child in behavioral, skill, and language development, along with others.

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