What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes a developmental disability ranging in severity from mild to severe in areas of social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Obvious signs of ASD usually appear between ages 2 and 3.
What are symptoms?
Symptoms seen in children with ASD include the following in varying severity:
- Child fails to respond to their name, affection, or gestures
- Difficulty playing social games, prefers to play alone
- Difficulty regulating emotion and frustration, can be disruptive or aggressive
- Has trouble interpreting what others think and feel
- Does not follow the normal “give-and-take” of conversation
- Has trouble identifying sarcasm
- Difficulty understanding body language
- Displays little or no eye contact
- May repeat or echo words or phrases
- Places toys or objects in a fixed order instead of playing with objects
- Requires rigid consistency in environment and daily routine
- Forms extreme interests
- Displays repetitive motions such as hand flapping, rocking, twirling, etc.
What causes Autism?
The causes of ASD are still under study, but scientists have listed the following as risk factors:
- Being male, boys are 4-5 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD
- Having a sibling diagnosed with ASD, an increase of 35 times the normal risk
- Having genetic mutations associated with ASD
- Being born to older parents
- Having conditions such as Fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis
- Maternal illness during pregnancy, or lack of oxygen to the brain during birth
The Centers for Disease Control reports 1 in 68 American children fall within the autism spectrum. Autism often looks different in girls than in boys according to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Researchers have found that girls show more irritability and acting out behaviors than boys with ASD on average do.
There are several conditions that can occur in children with ASD which include:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Sleep trouble (trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep)
- Seizure disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Sensory processing issues (overreacting or under-reacting to certain sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes)
- Intellectual disability
- Motor coordination difficulty and loss of muscle tone
- Eating non-food items
What can be done to treat Autism?
While there currently is no cure, best outcomes are often achieved through a comprehensive treatment plan which includes behavioral treatments, social skills training, parent training, and medicine when necessary to help specific symptoms. Significant improvements in ASD symptoms are most often reported after intensive early intervention (between birth and 36 months of age).
An editorial published in Autism Research Review International highlighted how much stress mothers of children with ASD especially, can experience. Seeking treatment for children with ASD and their family members can lead to better understanding, coping, and education within families.