General

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that causes issues with social interaction and restricted interests, and repeated behaviour. While autism is thought of as an ongoing condition, the severity of impairment in functioning due to these difficulties varies between people who have autism.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The first symptoms of this disorder could be observed by parents/caregivers and pediatricians before the child is one year old. But, the signs are usually more evident at the age of two or three years old. In certain instances, the impairments in function related to autism might be minor and not apparent until the child is enrolled. Their deficiencies may become evident compared to their peers.

Social communication deficits may include1:

  • Increased share of interests with people around the world.
  • Inability to recognize their own emotions and other’s emotions
  • Refusal to maintain eye contact
  • Uncertainty in the application of non-verbal gestures
  • Speech that is scripted or stilted
  • Translating abstract concepts literally
  • It isn’t easy to make friends or keep them

Repetitive and restricted interests can be a part of one of the following:

  • Behaviour inflexibility, extremely difficult to adapt to the changes
  • A focus on specific topics to the exclusion of other subjects
  • In the hopes that others will also be interested in the same topics
  • It isn’t easy to tolerate differences in routines and new experiences
  • Sensory hypersensitivity, e.g. Aversion to loud sounds
  • Stereotypical hand movements, such as the hand flapping or rocking or spinning
  • Arranging objects, usually toys, in a specific way

Parent/caregiver/teacher concerns about the child’s behaviour should lead to a specialized evaluation by a developmental pediatrician, pediatric psychologist, child neurologist and/or a child & adolescent psychiatrist. The evaluation consists of interviewing the parent or caregiver and observing and engaging with children in a planned manner. Sometimes, they will conduct tests to rule out other issues. In some situations, an autism diagnosis could be delayed. Still, any time an early diagnosis could significantly improve the functioning of a child by allowing the family to have early access to resources for support within the local community.

The first step to take is to seek an evaluation. Most parents seek an assessment from their pediatrician, who will check for developmental milestones. When your kid is less than three, you may request an evaluation from the local early intervention program. If your child is older than three years old, You can request an evaluation at the local school (even if your child does not attend the school). Contact the preschool at your school’s special education department to inquire about an evaluation. 

Risk Factors

The latest research suggests that a variety of genetic factors could enhance the chance of developing autism in various ways. Certain genetic disorders like Fragile X Syndrome or Tuberous Sclerosis have been identified as a factor that increases the likelihood of getting diagnosed as having autism. Certain drugs, like thalidomide and valproic acid administered during pregnancy, are associated with a greater probability of being diagnosed with autism. (2) Siblings who are autistic also increase the chance of the child being diagnosed with autism. Older parents are also associated with a higher risk of autism at the time of conception. Vaccines, however, are not proven to boost the probability of being diagnosed with autism or a diagnosis of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status doesn’t seem to be a factor in this. Most male children are diagnosed with autism more frequently than children assigned female sex at birth, although this ratio changes as time pass.

Treatment

There is no “cure” for autism; there are a variety of effective treatments that can help improve a child’s ability to function:

Application-based behavioural analysis This involves a systematic examination of the child’s developmental difficulties, which are used to design a specific behaviour plan to improve their adaptive abilities and reduce unacceptable behaviour

  • Skills training for social interaction In either individual or group settings, this program assists children with autism to improve their ability to manage social situations.
  • Speech and therapy for language: It can improve the child’s speech patterns, as well as comprehension of the language
  • Therapy for occupational disorders: This addresses the deficits in adaptive skills associated with everyday activities and also issues with handwriting
  • Parent training in management Parents learns efficient ways to respond to challenging behaviours and encourage the appropriate behaviour of their child. Support groups for parents assist parents in coping with the pressures of raising a child diagnosed with autism.
  • Special educational services under the Individual Education Plan provided by the school cater for the social communication issues of children with autism, limitations in interests, and repetitive behaviour. Children with autism can reach their highest potential academically. This is a part of special day classes for children who are very young to focus on social, language, and life abilities.
  • Treatment of co-occurring disorders: Children with autism have anxiety, insomnia and depression more frequently than children with autism. They also are more likely to suffer from ADHD. Autism children may also have an intellectual disability and need to be treated. The consequences of these issues can be mitigated by appropriate services that include each of these, plus therapy and medication.
  • Meds: A child psychiatrist may test for depression, anxiety, or an impulsive nature. If they are appropriate, medications may help, but they can. For instance, autism-related irritability can be diminished by medication such as aripiprazole (the two drugs that the Food and Drug Administration has approved for autism-related irritability) prescribed responsibly by a skilled clinician and the parents of the child.

Many alternative and complementary interventions, including special supplements and diets, have been tested by parents or caregivers trying to find ways to help children with autism perform better. There is no evidence to support them, and they have not been found to support any of these specific interventions definitively. The research into these kinds of interventions is ongoing, and parents and caregivers interested in them should talk about them with their child’s physician.

boy lying on bed playing with red and blue toy truck

Tips For Parents

  • Find out as much as you can about autism spectrum disorders.
  • Establish an organized and consistent structure
  • Meet other parents who have autism. 
  • Get professional assistance for specific issues
  • Spend time with you and your family members

Autism in a child impacts the entire family. It can be exhausting, time-consuming and costly. Attention to the health of the body and mind of all family members is essential. Many national and local advocacy organizations offer information, resources and assistance to people who have autism spectrum disorder and their families. Some are included on our Resources page.

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