According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1% population of the world has autism. It means around 75 million people suffer from this disorder. This percentage is an estimate as the prevalence of autism in many countries is unknown. The occurrence varies significantly across different studies.
The autism trend is increasing. The rising occurrence is primarily due to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism rather than an increase in autism cases. Let us study autism, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment methods.
What is Autism
Autism is not an illness. It is different for everyone. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a disability associated with the development of a child. It is a neurodevelopmental condition. ASD occurs due to abnormalities in brain structure or function. In Autistic, the brain works differently from others because of differences in wiring and organization.
Autism spectrum disorder is not a medical condition with a defined treatment or cure. Some autistic people need assistance to perform daily routine activities. The restrictive or repetitive behavior and challenges with social skills characterize ASD. An autistic person faces difficulties in speech and nonverbal communication.
People with ASD communicate, move, pay attention, and learn differently. It can make life challenging. ASD is a spectrum disorder, so the abilities, challenges, and strengths vary significantly from person to person. Some people with ASD may live entirely independently. The level of difficulties and the strengths vary from person to person. However, if somebody is born autistic, he is autistic for his whole life. The needs and abilities of people with ASD vary and can evolve.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Autism may be detected in early childhood when a child exhibits some notable characteristics. But it is often diagnosed and recognized much later. These characteristics may persist and interfere with a person’s daily living.
People with ASD might have co-occurring conditions. They may suffer from anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The intellectual functioning also varies significantly from person to person. It can extend from profound impairment to higher levels.
The common characteristics associated with ASD are poor motor skills, repetitive behaviors, trouble with speech, challenges with reasoning, narrow interests, and difficulty in social interactions and communications.
The main characteristics of autism are:
- Social communication and interaction challenges
- Restrictive and repetitive behavioral patterns.
- Social communication and interaction challenges
A person with autism may face difficulties in social communication like:
- Interacting with other people
- Problem in comprehending how other people feel or think
- Dealing with changes, loud noises, crowds, and bright lights
- Getting upset on facing an unfamiliar situation or social event
- Difficulty in understanding
- Do and the things repeatedly
- Problem in interpreting certain gestures, words, and their usage.
- Talking very little or sometimes not at all
- Sometimes their speech is hard to understand
- Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors or Interests
The behavior or interests of people with ASD often seem unusual. Some examples of restricted or repetitive behaviors may include:
- repeating hand or body movements
- cry, laugh, or get angry for unknown reasons
- trouble in changing from one activity to the other
- get upset by certain sounds and smells
- like an only certain types of foods based on look or texture
- interest in limited objects or topics
- Other Characteristics
People with ASD may also exhibit other characteristics like:
- Delayed learning, movement, and language skills
- Inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive behavior.
- Seizure or epilepsy disorder
- Unusual eating and sleeping habits
- Unusual emotional reactions
- Getting anxious, stressed, or excessively worried
It is important to note that people with ASD may not have all or any of the behaviors listed here.
Strengths of People with Autism Spectrum
We know that people with ASD face many challenges but also have significant areas of strength. Autistic people are strong with systemizing. Systemizing is the ability to analyze events, and objects, understand their structure and predict future behavior.
Autistic also shows good awareness of details and ability to segment stimuli. A study done by Harvard University confirms that people with the Autism spectrum have improved abilities to perceive and process. Some people with ASD are remarkable in discrete areas like art, music, or mathematics.
Causes of Autism
According to scientists, multiple causes and different environmental, biological, and genetic factors may contribute to the development of ASD. Many sensory sensitivities and medical issues like seizures, gastrointestinal and sleep disorders, and mental health challenges often accompany ASD.
We know very little about specific causes of ASD development, but the available evidence suggests that the following may put people at higher risk for developing ASD:
- Having a sibling with ASD
- People with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions.
- Development and experiencing complications at birth
- Children born to older parents
No other data shows any evidence of risk or association of Autism with any vaccine.
Although early diagnosis can make a considerable difference for children with autism, there is no medical test for timely diagnosis of ASD. When approached by the parents, doctors observe the behavior and development of the child to make a diagnosis.
Autism diagnosis is a two-stage process. Diagnosis starts with a pediatrician. Pediatricians assess the age of 18-24 months to note the response and behavior of the child. If the pediatrician notices developmental problems or other concerns, he will refer the child to a specialist for more tests.
In the second stage, a team of ASD specialists that includes a child psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and neurologist evaluate the developmental & behavioral changes in the child. These specialists note the child’s cognitive level, language abilities, and other life skills to make the diagnosis.
Diagnosis by the age of 2 by an experienced professional is considered reliable. In some cases, people are not diagnosed until they are adults.
Although symptoms may improve over time, ASD can last throughout a person’s life. Scientists have not identified any cause of autism, but early diagnosis is the key to improved outcomes. There is no cure for autism. We can only manage the symptoms to improve the quality of life. Some symptoms may fade slightly during adulthood but do not disappear completely.
The present treatments for ASD are to reduce symptoms that restrict daily functioning and interfere with the quality of life. ASD affects each person differently, so treatment plans usually involve multiple professionals. The professionals develop symptom management plans as per the needs of individuals.
People with autism have complex healthcare needs. They require a range of integrated services, care, and rehabilitation. There is a strong need for collaboration between the health, education, and employment sectors to provide quality care to enable them to enjoy a good life.
A broad range and timely interventions can optimize the development, health, and well-being of an autistic person. It can improve their quality of life their life. Access to psychosocial interventions on time can enhance their ability to communicate and interact effectively. There is a strong need to monitor the development of people who have autism to help them improve and enjoy a quality life.
Actions at community and societal levels should accompany the care of autistic people for greater accessibility and support.