Last Updated February 20th, 2019
Overview of autism
People belonging to different age groups exhibit diverse social and behavioral patterns. Few are very interactive, while few prefer restricted social interaction. In few cases, the latter category is found to be segregated socially, mentally and behaviorally. They isolate themselves completely and hardly socialize. This section is often misjudged as introverts. This classification is not valid since it overlooks the underlying causes of the abnormal behavioral pattern. These types of aberrant social and behavioral traits collectively form the basis of “Autism”, a rare disorder of the body and mind. According to a recent survey by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 out of every 59 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder or “Autism” is a chain of aberrant social and behavioral patterns observed in children, adolescents and adults.
It is characterized by the incapability to cope with one’s surroundings, despite repeated attempts by people around them. It is marked by cognitive impairments like the inability to learn, communicate and engage in normal activities.
In most cases, patients show repetitive and stereotyped behavior which become critical barriers to the physical and mental growth of the person.
What are the causes of autism?
Autism usually manifests itself within the first few years of childhood. The exact causes of autism can be determined only after careful observation of the patients and their specific symptoms. Detailed studies of a child’s social, environmental, physiological and genetic circumstances yield an insight into the root causes of autism. The most commonly investigated causes of autism are presented below-
- Brain structure: Abnormalities in brain development during a child’s growth cause excessive synaptic connections between brain cells. This leads to impaired cognitive skills and often results in low IQ. Structural defects in cerebellum cause abnormalities in motor skills which indirectly affect the communication skills as well. Sometimes due to dysfunctions of the left lobe of the brain, neuropsychological functionalities are disrupted, which eventually leads to autistic features. Patients belonging to this category have also been diagnosed with missing links (fibrical connections) between left and right hemispheres of the brain. These are outcomes of a major defect in the corpus callosum, which is the main connector between the brain lobes.
- Neurotransmitter abnormalities: In few cases, even after an individual attains adolescence, the concentration of serotonin in their blood platelets is high. This triggers abnormalities in serotonin metabolism and acts as a driving factor behind autism. This situation is often worsened by a drastic reduction of tryptophan in a person’s
- Metabolism: Abnormally high levels of amino acids and organic acids, endorphins, acidic proteins and pyruvates in the body interfere with the metabolic cycle and stimulate autistic trends. Reduction in magnesium ion concentration in the body leads to magnesium deficiency in Red Blood Cells (Erythrocytes) and causes seizures, irritation to external stimuli and aloofness to incidents occurring in the environment.
- Environment: Abnormal increase in the concentration of toxic agents in the environment, for example, mercury can trigger autism. These toxicities invade the body mainly through vaccines. Exposure to a widely used variety of insecticide namely- Chlorpyrifos triggers autism by reducing the count of neurons, which directly impacts intelligence.
- Drugs: Intake of specific drugs such as Thalidomide and Misoprostol in the pre-natal stage might predispose the new-born to autism. Research findings reveal that a higher concentration of testosterone during the pregnancy period might lead to future inabilities related to social skills.
- Congenital diseases: Infection due to the Rubella virus might pass from mother to the fetus in the pre-natal stage, causing “Congenital Rubella Syndrome” within first 8-9 weeks of fetal development. It adversely impacts the functioning of eyes, ears and the cardiac system.
- Genetic factor: The primary genetic factor behind autism especially in males, is the fragile X chromosome, which leads to fragile X-syndrome. This syndrome stimulates major autistic symptoms like – anxiety, retardation, low IQ and abnormally enlarged body parts (in critical cases).
How can you tell if a person is autistic?
The autistic symptoms range from mild to severe. A knowledge of the following manifestations of autism is essential for quick identification and diagnosis:
- Delay in speech and limited non-verbal interactions
- Lack of eye contact
- Apathy towards environmental happenings
- Lack of communication with people of same age group
- Inability to mimic acts
- Unexplained anxiety
- Repetitive acts manifested through hand gestures
- Repulsive response to change in environment or any stimuli (such as touch, sound, smell, taste etc)
- Inability to point at desired objects or respond appropriately when specific objects are pointed at.
- Inability to share feelings or emotions
- Aggressive attitude when someone tries to intrude into their personal territories
- Limited imaginative powers
- Delayed audio-visual development
- Difficulty in learning
- Sudden tantrums and self-abrasive behaviour
- Incapability to perform ordinary tasks such as tying shoe-lace, bathing or catching a ball while playing
Types of autism
Autism manifests itself in the three major categories:
- Classic autism: It is the most severe form of autism and is marked by conspicuous abnormalities in speech, social attitude and communication skills.
- Asperger’s Syndrome: It is a form of autism characterized by excessively scrupulous nature and an obsessive adherence to restricted and repetitive activities.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder: It involves a chain of disorders that delay the development of basic cognitive skills in childhood. It is closely related to Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and affects mental and physical growth of a child.
Autism cannot be cured. However, early and appropriate intervention can increase the likelihood of the development of considerable social communication skills along with functional and behavioral adeptness.The treatment plan for ASD depends on the severity of the disorder, symptoms, and the associated health conditions.
Some of the treatment options are as follows:
- Communication and behavior rehabilitation– Certain programs are designed in order to address the various language, social and behavioral difficulties associated with the disorder. Some programs focus on teaching new skills and reducing problematic behaviors, while others teach the communication skills in social situations.
- Awareness in the family- Parents, siblings, and the other family members can learn methods to interact with the child so as to develop his/her social interaction skills.
- Educational therapies- These aim at improving social skills, communication and behavior.
A psychologist can address the problem behavior of the child. Therapies such as speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy can help in improving the overall behavior and communication skills and daily living of the child.
- Medications– Medications mainly help to manage the symptoms of the condition. Antipsychotic drugs can be administered in some cases to treat behavioral problems. In case the child has anxiety issues, antidepressants may be prescribed. The child should also be educated about and taught to deal with the changes in the body during the transition to adulthood.
There are no methods devised to prevent autism.
- According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, nearly 1 in 59 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
- Boys are more susceptible to ASD as compared to girls. As compared to girls, these disorders are 4 times more common among boys.
- The estimated prevalence of ASD in Asia, Europe, and North America is found to be around 1 to 2%.
- The chances of a second child being affected by ASD are around 2 to 18% for parents who already have a child affected by ASD.
- The first amusement park in the world to be distinguished as a Certified Autism Center is the Sesame Place. It has been recognized by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
- In the United States, the total annual expenditure on children with ASD was estimated to be between $11.5 billion – $60.9 billion in 2011
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Dos and Don'ts
- Seek medical attention. Learn methods to manage the other health issues experienced by the child such as stomach problems, epilepsy, sleep disorders etc.
- Learn more about the disorders. This will help you to understand the child and his/her attempts to communicate in a better manner. Do not blindly believe the myths and misconceptions regarding the condition.
- Preserve records of the investigations, evaluations, and consultations with the various healthcare providers the child has undergone.
- Act sensibly. Do not lose patience or get annoyed with the child’s behavior. Learn about methods to communicate with the child and motivate the child to be more expressive.
- Neglect the problem behaviors of the child. Learn how to manage them.
- Have nutritional deficiencies. Consult a registered dietician to formulate a healthy diet plan for your child. Restrictive diets can make the child susceptible to nutritional deficiencies.
- Settle on complementary or alternative treatments such as Chelation therapy, hyperbaric oxygen treatments, and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) infusions as these might prove to be unsafe for the child.
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