Autism is a disorder of neural development that begins in early childhood before the child becomes 3 years old. Although the diagnosis of autism may not be made until a child reaches preschool or school age, the signs and symptoms of autism may be visible by the time the child is aged 12-18 months, and the behavioral characteristics of autism are almost always obvious by the time the child is aged 3 years. Language delay in the preschool age while a child is younger than 5 years is typical to the more severely affected children with autism. Good performing children with autism generally have behavioral problems when they reach approximately 4-5 years or with social problems later in childhood. Autism remains throughout the person’s lifetime, although many people can control and improve their behavior to some extent.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder of the central nervous system characterized by the following 3 crucial features:
- Problems with social interactions
- Impaired verbal and nonverbal communication
- A pattern of repetitive behavior with narrow, restricted interests
Autism may also include some other problems:
- Many children may have below-normal intelligence.
- Teenagers often become depressed and experience anxiety, especially if they possess average or more than average intelligence.
Some children may get a seizure disorder such as epilepsy by the time they reach teen age.
What causes autism?
Parents are tremendously anxious to know what actually causes autism. Scientists aren’t definite about the reason behind ASD. But most probably both genetics and environment play a vital part. Researchers have discovered a number of genes responsible for this mental disorder. Studies of people with ASD have revealed irregularities in several regions of the brain. Other studies advocate that people with ASD have unusual levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. These anomalies suggest that ASD could occur from the interruption of normal brain development early. The fetal development caused by generic flaws that control brain development and regulate how brain cells communicate with each other, possibly because of the influence of environmental factors on gene function. While these results are interesting, they are just the groundwork and require advance study. The hypothesis that parental practices are to blame for ASD has long been discarded.
What role does inheritance play?
Twin and family studies reveal that the brain dysfunction like autism can be inherited. Therefore some have a genetic predisposition to autism. But the researchers are eager to know which genes cause this increased susceptibility. Identical twin studies reveal that if one twin gets affected, there is a 90% chance for the other twin to be affected. Several studies are keen to settle on the specific genetic factors related to the development of ASD. In families with one child with ASD, the risk of having a second child with the same mental disorder is about 5%, or one in 20. This is larger than the risk for the general people. Occasionally, parents and other relatives of a child with ASD show mild unwillingness in social and communicative skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Researches also suggest that some emotional disorders including manic depression happen more often than average in the families of people with ASD.
Some people have a belief that childhood vaccines trigger autism, especially the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. But this no longer holds true. Rather it is more crucial to get your child all childhood vaccines as they help prevent serious diseases that can cause harm or even death.
If someone has autism, his or her brain will interfere considerably with an important job making it quite evident to the world. Think a bit that every day, your brain interprets the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that you experience in life but if your brain stops playing this crucial part, you would surely have trouble functioning, talking, going to school, and doing other everyday activities. Kids can be slightly affected by autism, causing a little trouble in life, or they can be severely affected, which demands a lot of support.
Most people with autism experience problems in using language, forming relationships, and properly interpreting and responding to the external world around them. But the intensity of symptoms varies greatly between individuals, but all people with autism have some basic symptoms in the areas of:
Social interactions and relationships
Symptoms may include:
Significant problems regarding nonverbal communication skills, such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body posture.
Inability to make friendship with children belonging to the same age: Kids with autism often can’t make links that other kids make quite easily. For instance, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or a friendly individual. But an autistic kid may face difficulty in interpreting that smile with the person’s happy feelings.
Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people.
Lack of understanding: People with autism may have problem understanding other persons’ feelings of pain or sorrow.
They also may react to some incident in unusual manner. Normal sounds may be regarded as a nuisance by someone with autism and it bothers the person so much that the person covers his or her ears.
Being touched, even gently, may cause irritation.
Preference to play alone
A sense of independence works significantly as the kids with autism do not prefer to seek help from others.
Verbal and nonverbal communication
Symptoms may include:
Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk: Approximately 40% of people with autism avoid speaking.
Persons with autism have a serious problem in starting a conversation and also face difficulties sustaining a conversation once it has begun.
Stereotyped and repetitive use of language: people with autism often repeat a phrase they have heard previously. This continuous parroting of same phrases which is also common to many normal kids is known as echolalia.
Difficulty in understanding their listener’s viewpoint: a person with autism may not make out that someone is using wit. They may interpret the communication word for word and fail to understand the oblique meaning. A kid having autism also face difficulty in understanding the meanings of words. Imagine how it will feel if you do not get what your mum is saying. It is more exasperating if a kid is unable to utter the proper words to express his or her own feelings.
Limited interests in activities or play
An unusual focus on pieces: younger children with autism often prefer to concentrate on parts of toys, like the wheels on a car, rather than playing with the toy itself.
Preoccupation with certain topics
Older children and adults may remain captivated by video games, trading cards, or license plates.
A need for sameness and routines: A child with autism generally prefers to abide by the same routine. A little alteration of the daily routine may cause his irritation. For example, an autistic child may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
Stereotyped behaviors: These may include body rocking and hand flapping or hair twirling. Autistic kids might flap their hands, say certain words repetitively, have temper tantrums, or play only with one particular toy. Most kids with autism don’t like any alterations in routines. They like to follow the same schedule always. They also may claim that their toys or other objects be arranged in a specific manner and become upset if his items are moved or disturbed.
Many people with autism have symptoms akin to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But these symptoms especially hamper social relationships and are more severe for autistic people.
About 10% of people with autism are endowed with some limited talents including memorizing lists, calculating calendar dates, drawing, or musical ability.
Many people with ASD have unusual sensory symptoms that include:
Hypersensitivity: persons with autism may describe a light touch as painful and deep pressure as providing a calming sensation.
Reduced sensitivity: Some may not feel pain at all.
Some people with autism have strong food likes and dislikes and strange preoccupations.
Sleep problems are evident in about 40% to 70% of people with autism.
How is autism diagnosed?
ASD varies widely in rigorousness and symptoms and may go undetected, particularly in slightly affected children or when it is veiled by more acute handicaps.
The early indicators that require serious assessment by an expert include:
No babbling or pointing by age 1
- No single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- No response to name
- Appears deaf at times
- Lack of language or social skills
- Poor eye contact
- Excessive lining up of toys or objects
- No smiling or social responsiveness
Later indicators include:
- Inability to make friends with peers
- Inability to initiate or continue a conversation with others
- Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- Stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
- Restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
- Preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- Inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
Health care providers generally use a questionnaire or other screening instruments to collect information about the development of a child and his or her behavior. Some screening instruments depend exclusively on parents’ observations, while others depend on both parents’ and doctor’s observations.
Generally, the results of lab tests and other medical tests are normal in kids with ASD, but doctors may recommend some blood and urine tests, a hearing examination, an EEG (a test to assess brain waves), and an MRI (a picture that indicates the structure of the brain) to make sure the kid doesn’t have other mental or physical complications. Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests also might be suggested.
Often, specialists work together as a team including a pediatrician, a pediatric neurologist, a pediatric developmentalist, a child psychiatrist, a child psychologist, speech and language therapists, and others in order to find out what is wrong with the system. The team members observe minutely how the child plays, learns, interacts, and behaves. The team listens carefully to the parents too to collect some more information. Using the information they’ve gathered, doctors can comment whether a child has autism or another problem.
How Is Autism Treated?
There is actually no treatment for autism, but doctors, therapists, and special teachers can help kids with autism overcome or adjust many related difficulties. The sooner a child starts treatment for autism, the better.
Many kinds of advanced treatments have been introduced, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and sensory integration. Different kids require different kinds of assistant depending upon the severity of the ailment, but primarily learning how to communicate is most important. Spoken language can be difficult for autistic kids to learn. Most of them understand words better by seeing them, so therapists often teach them how to communicate by pointing or using pictures or sign language. That makes learning things easier, and ultimately, many kids with autism learn to talk.
Therapists also help kids to become social by teaching them how to welcome people, wait for a turn, and follow directions though some kids require special help with living skills (like brushing teeth or making a bed). Others face trouble sitting still or controlling their tempers. In this case they need therapy in order to help them control their behavior. Some kids take medications to develop their moods and behavior, but there’s no medicine that will cure a kid’s autism.
Students with mild autism are sometimes able to attend regular school. But most kids with autism need more peaceful and more organized surroundings. They also need special teachers trained to understand their problems with communication and learning. They can be taught at home or in special classes at public or private schools.
Family counseling for the parents and siblings of autistic children often guides families to cope with the particular challenges of living with a child with ASD.
Doctors may recommend medications for treatment of specific ASD-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Antipsychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more anticonvulsant drugs. Medication used to treat people with attention deficit disorder can be used efficiently to help reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Specialized therapies include speech, occupational, and physical therapy. These therapies are significant to manage autism and should all be included in various fields of the child’s treatment program.
Speech therapy can help a child with autism develop language and social skills to communicate more efficiently.
Occupational and physical therapy can help improve any deficit in coordination and motor skills and may also help a child with ASD to understand information from the senses (sight, sound, hearing, touch, and smell) in more convenient ways.
There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions (news about alternative therapies, including secretin and auditory integration training, have circulated in the media and other information sources) available for people with ASD, but few, if any, are acknowledged by scientific studies. Parents need to be cautious before adopting any unconfirmed treatments. Although dietary interventions have been useful in some children, parents should not forget to follow their child’s nutritional status is carefully.
Living with Autism
Autism should not be regarded as a curse; rather it is only a difference that can be improved. Some kids with mild autistic symptoms will grow up and be able to live on independently. But those with more severity will always need some kind of support in order to be happy, stable and a productive person. Remember, all kids with autism have brighter prospects when they get the required support and understanding of doctors, teachers, caregivers, parents, friends and other relatives and siblings. Therefore full cooperation from family is must to make your child happy so that your kid never feels neglected or suffer from a sense of inferiority.