What is Autism? Understanding the Autism Spectrum
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly called autism is a complex developmental disorder, which makes people struggle with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. It includes a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders and, while it may appear to be a minor problem to some people, it can result in severe difficulties for the ones living with it.
As reported recently, 1 in every 59 children is struggling with autism. Compared with its rate of prevalence in 2004, it has increased a lot. Individuals with Autism often find it difficult to understand other people’s emotions and therefore face problems in expressing themselves. Imagine your child having a blank face all the time and not knowing how to react to whatever efforts you’re putting to cheer them up. It can be a painful experience for everyone involved!
In addition, the skills of people with ASD develop erratically. They might be lacking social and communication skills but at the same time can be brilliant in some artwork, memory, or dancing skills. Many folks out there suffer from ASD and concurrently are living an independent and fortunate life.
Many causative reasons are presented for autism, but the exact cause is still unknown. Some signs point to this disorder possibly being due to some irregular genetic makeup. However, environmental factors can be a reason too. Some other rationales are;
- Genetic disorders like fragile X syndrome
- Being exposed to chemicals like lead during pregnancy
- Low body weight at the time of birth
- Having a history of bad health
- Being born to older parents
Symptoms and severity of ASD are not the same for everyone, it varies from person to person. Some might show unusual behavior in public and have trouble communicating, while others may merely get distressed by new routines.
Generally, children start showing some crucial symptoms of ASD around their second or third year of life. However, some children may not begin to show signs until well into toddlerhood, while some may present symptoms only a short while after their birth, depending on the severity of developmental delays. Common behavior shown by people with autism are;
- Giving no response to what others say
- Deficits in nonverbal communication behaviors
- Being super-focused, i.e. having an abnormal fixation on any item or task
- Not maintaining eye contact at all
- Repetitive motor movements
- Getting anxious by changes to the daily routine
- Playing alone rather than in groups
Diagnosis for autism is quite troublesome as there are no specific medical tests for it. Doctors diagnose it by observing behaviors and checking the developmental history of the child. Following two steps are performed for diagnosis;
- Firstly the doctor will perform developmental monitoring. They will check whether the child is meeting the key developmental skills like speaking, learning, and moving or not. The doctor will closely observe your child by playing or by having a little chat. If any skill is absent, this can be a sign of the presence of a problem.
- After this, developmental screening is performed. It is a bit more formal than developmental monitoring. The doctor will query you and may ask you to fill a questionnaire regarding your child.
If there are any signs of ASD, they might need some more comprehensive evaluation like a hearing or vision test. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests, if you notice that your child is at risk of ASD, then specific screening must be performed on a child after they hit the age of 18-24 months.
To take care of an autistic child and provide the appropriate treatment and support, you first need to identify the type of autism the young one is dealing with. Understanding the problems and challenges provided by each type, can provide great help in coping with this malady.
Following are the four subtypes of autism that now fall under the single umbrella of ASD;
1. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder:
The children with this type of autism learn and acquire skills well until the age of 3. After hitting 3, the child starts losing social and communication skills.
2. Asperger’s Syndrome:
Asperger’s syndrome was named Level 1 autism by DSM-5. However, autism communities still mostly use the word Asperger’s syndrome. This type is majorly inherited.
In this type, the children have a good intelligence level just like the children with normal developmental progress but face difficulty in social life. Some symptoms exhibited by such children are;
- Not making eye contact
- Unable to express emotions
- Acting strangly while being in a gathering or other social places
- Unable to interact with children around them
- Speaking in a monotone speech
3. Kanner’s syndrome:
It is also known as an autistic disorder. People with this type of Austism may not have the level of intelligence found in those with Asperger’s syndrome.
Its symptoms are the same as Asperger’s syndrome but are more intense and obvious. In this type, there is also a delay in the development of basic skills like learning and speaking.
4. Pervasive Developmental Disorder:
This type is also referred to as subthreshold autism.
Its symptoms are;
- Lacking social skills
- Delayed development of language
- Delayed development of some motor skills
It’s more severe than Asperger’s syndrome but milder than Kanner’s syndrome.
Although there is no permanent treatment to fully overcome this neurodevelopmental disorder, there are some treatments and therapies which can make life easier for people living with autism.
Some main types of treatments are;
- Speech therapy to improve the communication and speaking of a person.
- Play therapy
- Physical therapy to make them comfortable with touch and other senses.
- Occupational therapy helps them deal with eating and dressing along with maintaining the relationship with others.
ASD is found to be improved by maintaining a good diet, prominently including fruits. Medications are used to improve conditions like hyperactivity and anxiety.
The number of children with autism is increasing every year. It’s still not sure whether the number of cases has surged or the diagnosis is improved. According to reports, the ratio of occurrence of autism is higher in boys than in girls. Having a family member with autism can often be quite stressful. It requires time and attention. Besides all the treatments, the support of family and friends is a significant medicine for all disorders and syndromes. Observe your surroundings, if there is a person with autism, be friendly, patient, and kind with them.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.