Autism and Autism Spectrum disorder is a cluster of complex brain developmental disorders. The intensity of the problem varies and has various characteristic signs and symptoms with which the disorder could be identified. It is a neurological condition exhibiting symptoms ranging from difficulties in social interaction to cognitive developmental deficits and for each the symptoms vary from mild to severe. Let us see the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of Autism in details.
What is Autism?
Autism can be described as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder or it can be described as “Neurological Abnormalities”. It affects mainly three areas of development of a child,
- Social Interaction
- Cognitive Development
It is characterized by significant delay in speech and intelligence though in some cases the level of intelligence fall in the normal or superior range, which has been mentioned as “high functioning autism”. Children are found to exhibit some repetitive and stereotypical behaviors.
Usually autism can be diagnosed before the age of 3. In some cases the symptoms occur gradually with the age. Boys are affected more with autism compared to girls.
Autism affects more than 2 million people in the USA and some millions worldwide. The increase in the prevalence rate is 10%-17% annually in recent years. However, no definite reason has been found for this continuing increase.
Symptoms of Autism
The following symptoms are found in children with autism:
- The child does not respond when someone is calling him/her.
- The child is self-involved. They do not prefer to play interactive games with anyone. They are happy in their own imaginary world.
- They do not make eye contact when someone is interacting with them.
- They find hard to communicate with others. They cannot convey their needs and demands. This inability to communicate often lead to irritation and frustration, and inappropriate behavior like screaming, hitting or grabbing.
- They may have speech problems. They may not be able to speak.
- Some repetitive behaviors such as flapping of hands, walking on toes, clapping of hands, rocking movements, spinning, wiggling fingers occur in the child.
- The child echoes some words repeatedly. They stick to some specific topic.
- Some stereotypical, obsessive behavior may also occur in the child.
- They are unable to show their feeling to others as well as understand anyone’s feeling.
- Being preoccupied with unusual objects or parts of objects.
In many cases, children with autism may also have an additional disorder of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Parents should consult a doctor without delay if the following signs and symptoms are present in their child:
- The baby does not respond to mother’s voice
- Missing of babbling
- No eye contact
- Unable to point or gesture by 12 months
- Does not have any word by 16 months
- Unable to speak by 24 months.
- Loss of language or social and communication
Causes of Autism
No specific causes are identified for autism till date. Researchers have assumed several factors such as genetics, neurological factors, certain types of infections and problems occurring during birth.
The most accepted reason till date is brain’s functional abnormalities. Irregularities of the different parts of the brain create hindrance to develop normal brain.
Genes may also play a vital role for causing autism. It has been found that identical twins are more likely to be affected than fraternal twins. It is also stated that those who have sibling with autism are more likely to develop autism. Researchers also found the relation between abnormal gene and autism. A faulty gene might make a person more vulnerable to autism. There are also some factors responsible for autism. They are as follows,
- Chemical imbalance, viruses, infections.
- Fragile X syndrome (most commonly inherited form of intellectual disability).
- Rubella (German measles) in the pregnant mother.
- Tuberous sclerosis (a kind of genetic disorder causes noncancerous tumors to grow in many parts of the body).
- Mutations that inactivate the gene MECP2 which causes Rett’s Syndrome is associated with autistic behaviors in case of girls and in case of boys, the mutation is Embryonic Lethal.
- Seizure disorder, also called epilepsy.
The environment variable such as environmental toxins, pesticides, drugs and heavy metals drugs can contribute towards developing of Autism. The contribution of alcohols, smoking, vaccinations for immune disorders, and limited prenatal vitamin intake for the development of autism are still on debate. Researchers have found increased risk of autism in children born to young mothers in their teens and also to parents who have a larger age difference. The study has also found that there is a higher risk of autism in children born to older parents.
Risk Factors of Autism
Researcher has studied that intake of prenatal vitamins, especially Vitamin D & Folic acid before and after conception can help in reducing the risk of autism in the child. The following things help in reducing the risk of autism in a child:
- Regular exercise
- Intake of organic food
- Avoiding Electro Magnetic Radiation
- Minimizing the intake of antibiotics during pregnancy
- To be careful that the child is not underweight
- Avoiding smoking and drinking during pregnancy
Diagnosis of Autism
There is no particular medical test for diagnosing autism. The early behavioral signs of autism can be diagnosed by pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists; though the symptoms are vary from child to child. Autism can also be identified by the delayed reaching of the developmental milestones. Some specialists recommend proper treatment after evaluating the child. Audiologists check to rule out if there is a hearing loss or language specialists are consulted to determine the speech and language skills and the reason for its delay or absence. Occupational specialists are also consulted to evaluate the physical and motor skills. Based on a multidisciplinary evaluation, a child is diagnosed for autism.
Unfortunately sometimes delayed identification of symptoms by parents as well as doctors can cause delayed early treatment for child. Several organizations are trying to educate parents and physicians for identifying as early as possible the symptoms of autism.
Treatment for Autism
Autism is a non-curable disorder, and hence no single treatment is best for autism. Medication, intensive teaching process, and families and educational system are resource of managing a child with autism.
- Medication for a Child with Autism: There is no particular medicine to cure autism. Most of the children are prescribed with psychoactive drugs and anticonvulsants. Antidepressants and anti-psychotics medicines such as Risperidone, Aripiprazole, and Melatonin are used to manage the behaviors like aggression, self-injury, sleeping problem, irritability, repetitive behaviors and tantrums. Maintaining proper diet along with medication is very necessary. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins especially vitamin C and vitamin D should be mandatory in a child’s diet. Researchers have also stated that gluten-free diet may beneficial for autistic children.
- Behavioral Therapy for Autism: Most of time, it is very hard to communicate with the child. Special educator and behavior therapists can help the parents by admitting them in a special school. There are two very well-known behavioral approaches used for intensive behavioral intervention: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Developmental Social Pragmatic Models (DSPM). With the help of two approaches, children can learn to self-help, develop motor skills, functioning skills, and job skills. Social skills can be improved by various techniques such as calling the child by his name as much as possible to improve his response. The child can be taught to use simple gestures or signs to communicate and to make others understand his needs. For kids who can speak, one must use simple words which are easily understandable to them and they can adapt well and that can be easily taught to them.
- Speech or Language Therapy for Children with Autism: It is also used to make them learn signs and simple language to communicate with others and express their needs.
- Sensory Integration Therapy for Autism: It helps them to get accustomed with sounds, smell, sight, touch and other sensory information. Children with Autism are generally hypersensitive to bright lights, loud sounds and sudden touch and these often agitate them. Sensory integration therapy helps in making them adjust to these unpredictable environmental conditions.
- Dance Movement Therapy for Autism: Dance Therapy is a form of psychotherapy which has proven results to help people with autism. Dance therapy focuses on expression of emotion through nonverbal modes of communication which is of high advantage for people with autism. It also helps in enhancing communication with others and understanding others emotions and what they want to communicate. Dance movement therapy also helps in reducing repetitive and stereotypical movements by making them learn new movements and increasing the movement vocabulary. It also promotes meaningful movements by adding meaning to the movements the children already know.
- Special Education for Individual with Autism: Applied Behavioral approach, in case of special education of the child is a very well-known process. It focuses on approaching the effectiveness in global functioning as well as intellectual performance of young children. Various programmers who developed the “Applied Behavioral Analysis” and “Developmental Social Pragmatic Approach” have set a benchmark to improve child’s behavior, communication, language, play and social skills, imitation of daily living and motor skills by trained therapist or special educator with intensive structured well-defined teaching models. The therapist help to clear understanding about child’s as well as parents’ specific needs, values and perspectives. These programmers also help to build peer relationship among the children.
The best thing parents can do to help the child is to work with the well trained specialized educators or psychologist. The parents must always inform any issues surrounding the child’s treatment and outlook. Make sure about the goals of therapy and how they are to be achieved. Be organized and cooperative in supplying all information required by the educators.
Raising a child with autism is hard but with good support, positive outlook and proper training, anyone can cope up with the challenges that the disorder pose. Moreover, it is also said that providing proper environment to discover the inborn skills that the child has helps more in the development process and provides the children a better living than forcing them to learn and act in the so-called normal way.