Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how an individual experiences the world. Autism can be seen as a difference in brain wiring, which impacts a person's ability to experience, understand and process information. The pervasive developmental disorder is characterized by impaired social interaction, communication difficulties and repetitive behaviours. This guide details what ASD is and provides tips on helping children and adults with the condition thrive in the world they move in.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of autistic disorders grouped together under this diagnosis. ASD covers a range of developmental disorders from autism to Asperger syndrome. The symptoms of autism can be mild or severe, but they all affect the quality of everyday life for those who have the condition.
To be diagnosed with autism, one has to satisfy all the main criteria for autism spectrum disorders: problems with poor social skills, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive actions or behaviour patterns. Some autism disorders may also include restricted interests, unusual responses to sensory stimuli (for example loud noises), or unusual motor movements or posture.
How Do You Know If Someone Has ASD Symptoms?
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be hard to understand. Many of them will also have additional difficulties, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mental retardation or learning disabilities. Moreover, other conditions may occur along with autism such as the following:
- Fragile X syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis
- Congenital rubella syndrome
- Rett syndrome
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Angelman syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorders
If someone seems very withdrawn from others, doesn't look at other people when they're talking to them, doesn't join in with other people's activities or games or conversations even though you've tried to include them, then this person may have autism. This is not just a childhood phase that kids go through at school - autism is a lifelong disorder, and so if your child was diagnosed as autistic he would be expected to continue to have problems dealing with others throughout his life.
Signs of Autism in Children and Adults
People who are autistic don't remember being any different from anyone else, so it can be hard for them to understand why the rest of the world has trouble understanding what they want. If someone seems withdrawn, you should notice if this happens all the time or occasionally. Then, keep an eye out for the following range of symptoms that are common in people with autism:
- Do not make eye contact with others and seem unaware of others' reactions to them
- Problems with social interactions and communication skills
- Unaware of others' feelings
- Not responding when their name has been called
- Hears sounds that don't exist
- Toddlers will usually play on their own rather than interact with others
- Becomes upset by changes in routines or resistant to new ways of doing things
- Finds it difficult to express their feelings or say exactly what they mean
- May not like to hug and kiss their family members, except when they need comfort
- Keeps to themselves most of the time
- Unusual play interests (such as lining up toys instead of playing imaginatively)
- Repetitive movements or use of language
- Children flap their hands when they are excited or engage in repetitive behaviours
- Difficulties understanding what others say to them
- Jumps from one topic to another, leaving others confused
People who have autism might not understand the social rules of conversation or that people change topics because they don't want to talk about a particular subject. This is frustrating to them. Additionally, they may also speak very formally even if everyone around them is using slang or casual language. People with autism may communicate more easily through text or pictures than in person because their communication style is very different.
Some people with autism also can become aggressive or destructive when frustrated. They may have frequent tantrums and sometimes hit, bite, kick, scratch or pinch others in an outburst of anger. A person with autism may also exhibit self-destructive behaviours, such as head banging or hand biting, for no apparent reason.
Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism originates from a neurological disorder within the brain, which can be identified as early as infancy. It impacts many different genders and races equally. Doctors do not know what causes autism, but it is likely that many factors contribute to the risk.
Research suggests that autism tends to be a genetic condition, suggesting that genes passed down from parents may make their children more likely to develop autism than other children. There is evidence that genetic mutations such as fragile X syndrome can lead to autism. A study done by Amiet et al found that when an individual inherits two copies of the mutated version of an autism-connected gene on chromosome X (fragile X full mutation), autism symptoms are more common than if only one copy is inherited.
Some studies also suggest that exposure during pregnancy to certain chemicals, including pesticides and lead, are among the risk factors for autism. However, much more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn with regard to the role of these environmental factors for autism.
Common Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder
Because the causes of ASD are unclear, several myths about the condition have emerged, along with numerous attempts to uncover its scientific origin. While there are some common misconceptions about autism within society, the following are the most common myths associated with the condition:
Myth #1: People on the autism spectrum do not feel emotions. This is false. They may have trouble understanding other people's feelings or knowing how to express their own feelings, but most autistics feel strong emotions such as love or sadness
Myth #2: Adults with autism spectrum disorder cannot communicate well. Not true. Autistics can be very good at communicating using typing, sign language or even speaking if their autism symptoms are less severe.
Myth #3: Autistic persons cannot learn new things. Another false information. Although they certainly have a learning disability, it doesn't mean that children with autism cannot learn new things. They may just need to be taught in special ways.
Myth #4: An autistic child will never grow up to live independently and hold down a job and lead a fulfilling life. Again, this is false. Autism does not mean that someone won't live on their own or hold down jobs, etc. There are thousands of autistic adults living independent lives.
Myth #5: The autism spectrum is only made up of children who are struggling. Autism comes in many forms. Some people with autism are severely impaired, while others barely show symptoms. However, all types of autism should be treated equally because every person with autism has autism symptoms to deal with.
Myth #6: Autism cannot be cured. Although there is no cure for autism, it can be managed and improved upon through treatment. The appropriate treatment approach will make life much more manageable for autistic people.
Myth #7: Autism only affects boys. The truth is, autism can affect anyone regardless of gender. However, autism is three times more prevalent in boys than girls, hence the reason there are less diagnosed causes amongst females.
Autism Diagnosis and Treatment
While another medical condition may be diagnosed using certain medical procedures or equipment, these tools don't work when you're trying to make a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Autism is diagnosed using autism assessment, which looks for symptoms of autism through careful observation of a child's body language. Children with autism spectrum disorder will usually behave differently from those who do not have the condition, making it easy for caregivers to detect autism early on in the child's development. However, autism symptoms often go unnoticed until the child begins kindergarten at age 3 or 5 years old, when they may struggle to socialize with others. At this point many parents seek professional help.
The most common form of treatment is typically various forms of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which may include Verbal Behaviour (VB) therapy, pivotal response training (PRT),and pivotal response therapy (PRT). ABA is a form of behaviour modification, which is the "gold standard" for autism treatment. It can help improve cognitive skills, language skills and repetitive patterns of behaviour in children who are at risk of autism spectrum disorder.
In addition to ABA, those with autism often need other types of help as well. These may include occupational or physical therapy as well as speech therapy. There are several other treatments that have helped some children with autism, such as sensory-integration therapy and music therapy.
Without treatment, a child with autism spectrum disorder may develop a lifelong social impairment and not learn to communicate or socialize at all. Some children with autism seem perfectly normal until their second year of life when autism symptoms become more prominent or noticeable in their daily lives. Treatment is most effective when started early in an autistic child's life, so parents of children who exhibit autistic traits, or infants who may be potentially at risk of autism spectrum disorder, should consider taking them for an autism assessment as soon as possible.
Autism can be a challenge for any family, so it is crucial to understand the severity of symptoms your child displays and to seek treatment from a mental health professional with regard to this neurodevelopmental condition. Your child can learn relevant coping skills and improve their quality of life with a qualified practitioner's support.