What is Autism Spectrum Disorder – ASD?
Autism spectrum disorder or autism is a series of conditions that are characterized by troubles with social interaction and communication, repetitive behavior, verbal and non-verbal communication. The individuals suffering from autism face a wide range of challenges along with some unique strengths and differences. The disorder is caused due to a combination of various genetic and environmental factors. It’s important What everyone should know about Autism?
The symptoms of autism are usually noticed by parents in their children at the age of two or three. The disorder slows down the development process of the child in most cases but there are some cases where the development takes place at the normal phase and worsens later in the life. Many other medical conditions such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias are seen in individuals affected by autism disorder.
The disorder affects the ability of the child to process information due to the alterations in the connecting and organizing of nerve cells with their synapses. The reason behind this is still unknown and organizations are working on it.
Related: Can Autism Develop Later in Life?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s frequency as 1 in 59 kids in the United States? This includes 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls. The statistics show that autism is five times more common in boys than girls.
Types of Autism Disorder
The autism spectrum describes a wide range of developmental delays and disorders that cause the child to face various speech and motor challenges through his life. Every individual is affected in a different way such as some might be quiet while others are chatty. One can’t categories the children diagnosed with autism in a single class as there is various type of disorders seen in the autism spectrum that affects each individual differently. There are three different types of autism spectrum disorder that are seen in individuals.
1. Autistic Disorder
This is the most common kind of autism disorder that is seen in individuals. People suffering from autistic disorder have problems with communication and social skills along with language delays. You might find some with intellectual disability as well. Individuals diagnosed with the autistic disorder often have unusual behavior and interests.
2. Asperger Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome is commonly known as geek syndrome or little professor syndrome because the individuals suffering from the disorder are often very smart and intellectual. It is clear from the name that individuals suffering from such conditions are at the highest functioning end of the spectrum. The development of speech in such individuals takes place normally whereas they might suffer from social skills. The challenges escalate as the kids grow older due to the fact that the communication expectations rise with the increase in age.
3. Pervasive Development Disorder
Individuals that are not affected by all the symptoms of an autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome might be affected with the pervasive development disorder. This is a mild condition of autism that doesn’t affect the herbal or motor functions of the individual. The individual diagnosed with such ca ondition is likely to only suffer from the social communication challenges.
These are the main types of autism that are seen today but various other terms are also used to describe the autism disorders. The terms used are not always helpful because as said earlier each individual suffering from autism disorder has unique symptoms and can’t be classified under a single term. These terms are only used for descriptive purposes to help parents and other folks who are unaware of the disorder understand it in a better way. Some of those terms are mentioned below to give you more insight about the autism disorder.
- Mild Autism
It is a descriptive autism term that is used to refer to the individuals that suffer from mild symptoms of autism. These children have strong verbal skills and a very few behavioral issues meaning that mostly the children only suffer from social communication challenges that are seen in all cases of autism. The disorder might also affect the sensory input (sound, sight etc.) of such individuals which affects their ability to cope up with too much of sensory input such as bright lights and loud noises at the same time.
- High Functioning Autism
The term is made up of individuals. It is not a scientific term, only there to assist the people in understanding the disorder. The term was used by the practitioner to distinguish autistic autism from Asperger Syndrome. The term high functioning autism is used to describe individuals suffering from speech delays just like in autistic autism whereas individuals with Asperger Syndrome have normal speech development.
- Severe Autism
It is clear from the name that people diagnosed with severe autism suffer from all the severe conditions of autism spectrum disorder. They are often intellectually disabled and non-verbal. You might see a lot of behavioral challenges in such individuals.
- Rett Syndrome
This disorder is only observed in girls and is the only disorder of autism spectrum that can be diagnosed medically. Girls suffering with Rett syndrome are affected with the severe conditions of autism. The disorder also affects the functionality of the hands that impair girls’ capability to use their hands serviceably.
- Broad Autism Phenotype
It is the term used for people who barely suffer from any of the symptoms of autism. It is usually seen in people who have a family member who is affected by severe autism. Therapist is not sure whether it is a type of autism or just a personality disorder seen in people as there are no symptoms that affect the daily functioning of the individual.
Causes of Autism Disorder
Scientists are still unaware of the actual cause of autism disorder. It is known that autism is caused by a combination of various environmental, genetic and non-genetic influences. There are certain risk factors that make a child more likely to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some of the risk factors are mentioned below;
· Genetic risk factors
Research shows that there are certain genes that increase the risk of developing autism. This means that the disorder runs in the family. Whether the parent is diagnosed with the disorder or carries the gene, in both ways the child’s risk of getting autism increases. The spontaneous genetic changes occur in the gene at the early stage of the embryo or in the eggs of the sperms.
· Environmental risk factor
Environmental factors influence the autism disorder of the individuals who are genetically liable to the disorder, both the positive and the negative way. The factors that increase the risk rate are advanced age of the parents, complications in pregnancy, multiple pregnancies, low birth weight, less space in the pregnancies and etc. whereas the factors that decrease the risk rate are consumption of prenatal vitamins containing folic acid, before and at conception and through pregnancy.
· Medical Conditions
The disorder tends to occur in individuals who are offer suffering from other medical conditions as well. Out of the 100, 10% of the kids have identifiable syndromes such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome, and other chromosomal disorders.
· Intake of Drugs during pregnancy
Intake of various harmful drugs during the pregnancy can increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder. Most of the drugs are illegal while some prescription drugs such as thalidomide and Valproic Acid are also known for their link to getting ASD.
Symptoms of Autism Disorder
Autism Spectrum disorder is mainly characterized by problems with social communication, verbal and motor impairment and the tendency to engage in repetitive behavior. There are many symptoms of Autism disorder but they are all mainly based upon these three core areas. There severity varies from person to person and are often accompanied by other medical conditions. The symptoms appear before the age of three in children usually between 18 to 24 months and develop as the kid grows older. Some of the symptoms are listed below;
- Social challenges
Children are naturally quite social. They would respond to your actions, gaze at you or grasp your finger but children with autism find it difficult to engage in the normal interaction. They are quite attracted to their parents but their ways of showing attracting are quite unusual. They are also unable to respond to their name, anger or affection shown by parents and also have difficulty is playing social games.
- Communication Difficulties
By the age of three normal kids start communicating through words and actions whereas toddlers suffering from autism show delayed babbling and speaking. They are unable to respond even through gestures and some might even lose their communicative behavior. As far as the language development is concerned, kids with autism cannot communicate in full sentence, they tend to repeat the same phrase over and over again and convey their message through single words. There are various therapies that help such children learn how to communicate.
- Repetitive Behavior
This is one of the core symptoms of Autism that is seen in almost all cases. Hand-flapping, rocking, jumping and twirling, arranging and rearranging objects, and repeating sounds, words or phrases are the most common of the repetitive behaviors observed in kids with autism disorder. As a child such individuals spend most of their time in arranging toys in an order while as an adult they ask for consistency in their environment. If anything disrupts there order or routine they get extremely uncomfortable and stressful.
- Seizure Disorder
Seizure and epilepsy is observed in almost 39% of the individuals suffering from autism. Individuals with autism might suffer from different kinds of seizures. Some of the common ones are grand mal, or tonic-colonic, petit mal seizures and subclinical seizures. Some of these seizers might be difficult to identify and are only obvious with electroencephalogram (EEG) testing.
- Sleep Dysfunction
Along with other disorders, the children and the adults suffering from autism spectrum might also suffer from sleep problems. These are very common among adults but are only observed in children at times.
- Sensory Processing Problem
Individuals suffering from autism might have difficulty in processing sensory input such as sound, smell, sight and taste. Ordinary stimuli might be difficult for them to integrate and process. Autism suffering children suffer from sensory defensiveness meaning that they are very sensitive to sounds of touch. Loud noise or several touches might make them feel uncomfortable and irresponsive. Occupational Therapy and sensory integration therapy help such individuals with such conditions.
Pica is the condition in which one gets the tendency to eat non0food items. It is normal for children between the ages of 18 to 24 months to eat non-food items but children and adults suffering from autism tend to eat non-food items all the time such as dirt, chalk, wood, rubber and etc. This might increase their chances of getting lead poisoning thus the blood levels should be tested for lead, the environmental toxin, from time to time to be on the safe side.
- Gastrointestinal Disorder
The disorder is very common among children suffering from Autism. It is seen in almost 85% of the cases and has various ranges of severity. The child might suffer from chronic constipation or diarrhea to inflammatory bowel disease. The pain caused due to GI can result in self-soothing, self-injury or sudden outbursts of aggression but the disorder can be improved through proper treatment.
Autism Therapies and Support
Each case of autism is different from the other such the therapies working for one child might not be effective for the other one. The treatment plan is designed according to the symptoms shown by the child and by evaluating the strengths and the challenges. Usually, the treatment plan is the combination of behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training and sometimes feeding therapy. Many support groups are out there to help both the parent and the child to cope up with the challenges. The parents are trained on how to handle the changes in their child’s life and cope up with them. Research shows that therapies have to be quite effective when comes to people suffering from autism.