At the outset, let us understand what autism actually is. Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that is complex enough to cause impairment in social interaction and language and communication skills. People with autism are found to be rigid and can have repetitive behaviors. Owing to this complex range of symptoms, autism now is called autism spectrum disorder or ASD. A large spectrum of symptoms comes under autism and the levels of impairment may also be different from person to person. Severity of the disease can be from being a handicap that prevents a person from leading a normal life to a devastating disability that may require admission to a rehabilitation centre.
Children with autism have trouble in communicating effectively with others. They do not have the ability to understand what others think and feel. This makes it very difficult for them to express themselves either verbally or through gestures, facial expression or touch.
Children with autism are likely to be very sensitive and sometimes even pained by sounds, touches, smells or sights that seem normal to others. Children with autism are prone to repetitive body movements such as rocking, pacing or hand flapping. They demonstrate unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, reluctance to change their routines. They can even be belligerent or show self-injurious behavior. Ironically, they may seem not to notice people, objects or activities around them. Seizure can also occur as an offshoot of autism.
Some people affected by autism are intellectually impaired. What is to be understood here is, in contrast to other cognitive delays where there would be a cognitive impairment in every aspect, people with autism show uneven skill development. They may find certain areas of life challenging, especially in communicating with others and understanding what they are told to. But they may show skill development in some other areas like drawing, music, solving math problems or memorizing facts.
Symptoms of the autism
Symptoms of autism generally appear during the first three years of life. Some children may exhibit the signs from birth, whereas others seem to grow normally at first, but may slip suddenly into symptoms when they are 18 to 36 months old. An interesting fact is that some people with the condition may not show problems with communication until demands of the environment exceed their capabilities. Autism is four times common in boys than in girls. It has no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. Autism is immune to family income, lifestyle, or educational levels.
Unfortunately, autism is said to be increasing, though it is not completely clear whether it is a true increase or whether it has started getting diagnosed more now than ever in the past.
Contrary to what people think, autism is just one syndrome that falls under the ambit of autistic spectrum disorder. Other disorders that are now classified under the umbrella term ASD include:
- Autistic disorder
- Asperger’s syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder or PDD (also known as atypical autism)
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
Rett syndrome, which previously fell under autistic spectrum disorder, is now confirmed that Rett’s case is genetic. It no longer falls under the scope of ASD.
Causes of autism
As autism runs in families, majority of the researchers believe that certain combination of genes may increase the risk of a child getting autism, but there are other risk factors also that increase the chance of having a child with autism. One such risk factor is advanced age of mother or the father. If the mother is exposed to way too much drugs or chemicals during pregnancy, her child is likely to have autism. But doctors cannot figure out, during pregnancy, if the baby will have autism
Some other risk factors for autism are alcohol, maternal metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity and the use of anti-seizure drugs during pregnancy.
Though sometimes referred to as a cause of autism, there is no medical evidence to prove that vaccinations cause autism.
Treatment of autism
Even if a child is not diagnosed officially with autism, it is advisable to get certain treatments if there is a risk of autism that runs in the family. The type of treatment for autism varies, depends on individual needs as ASD is a spectrum disorder (some children may have mild symptoms, whereas other may have severe symptoms). As the condition is unique in each person, there is a variety of treatments. However, a person with autism can benefit from therapies like speech and behavior and medications to bring under control any medical conditions associated with autism.
Whatever the treatment is the goal is to reduce the symptoms and improve learning and development. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one such treatment that focuses on improving the positive behavior while reducing the negative.
Prevention of autism
It is a fact that we cannot prevent a child completely getting affected by autism, but we can lower some of the risk if the following lifestyle changes are adhered to:
- Live healthy
- Have regular check ups
- Eat well-balanced meals
- Proper prenatal care
- Take all recommended vitamins and supplements during pregnancy