autism

Autism – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Autism is a developmental disorder that begins in early childhood. The condition can affect the normal functioning of the child in society. A child can show signs of the condition within their first year. While a small group of children goes through the regression period (18 to 24 months) when they develop the signs. You have to understand there is no cure for the condition. But, early detection and intervention can change the lives of the children positively.

About Autism

Autism Autism spectrum disorder or ASD occurs due to issues with brain development. It impacts a person’s perception and socialization with others. So, it results in problems with social interaction as well as communication. Developmental disorder can also cause limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. Now, ASD is a broad term with several symptoms of ranges of severity. It now encompasses the following separate conditions along with autism:

  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Pervasive developmental disorder (unspecified)

Symptoms Of Autism

Children show signs of developmental disorder early. You can monitor the child closely to check for symptoms indicating the problems. A child with ASD tends to develop normally for the first few months or years of their life. But, they experience the change suddenly and become aggressive or withdrawn. They lose the skills they have acquired. You can see signs by the age of two. The signs of children affected by developmental disorders differ from one another. They have a unique behavior pattern and the difference in severity level (for example, from low functioning to high functioning).

Symptoms Of Autism

Children who suffer from the problem can have diverse signs. Some may experience trouble learning while others have lower than normal intelligence. Other children tend to have normal to high intelligence, but have trouble communicating or issues applying the concepts in everyday life. They experience problems adjusting to social situations. Since every child suffering from the problem has a unique mix of symptoms, it becomes impossible to determine the developmental problem. But, some common signs associated with the condition are:

Social Communication And Interaction

A child or adult suffering from developmental disorder can experience problems with communication skills and social interaction. So, they can experience the following signs:

  • Fails to respond when they hear their name
  • Appears not to hear what others say
  • Resists physical touch like cuddling
  • Retreats into their world and plays alone
  • Lacks facial expression
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Experience trouble with communication (has delayed speech/doesn’t speak or loses the ability to say words or sentences)
  • Have trouble starting a conversation or continue it (tends to speak, but results in labeling items or make requests)
  • Speaks in in robot-like speech or singsong voice
  • Have an abnormal tone or rhythm of speech
  • Cannot understand simple questions/directions
  • Have trouble expressing emotions or feelings
  • Unaware of other’s feelings
  • Can approach a social interaction by becoming aggressive, passive or disruptive
  • Have trouble pointing fingers or bringing objects to share an interest
  • Cannot recognize nonverbal cues like interpreting another person’s body postures, facial expression or voice tone.

Patterns Of Behavior

A child or adult suffering from autism may exhibit the following behavior pattern:

  • Perform repetitive movements like spinning, rocking or hand flapping
  • Indulge in activities causing self-harm like head-banging or biting
  • Develops specific routine or rituals and becomes disturbed when it changes
  • Has issues with body coordination or suffers from odd movement patterns
  • Becomes fascinated with an object, but have a problem understanding its function
  • Sensitivity to touch, sound or light
  • Indifference to temperature or pain
  • Fixates on a certain object or activity with abnormal focus or intensity
  • Has specific food preferences (eat only a few foods and refuse others)

As a child matures, some children learn to engage with others. They also show few disturbing behaviors, but, that occurs with children who suffer from the least severe problem. In such cases, they lead a normal life as they become older. But, severe cases can have trouble as the years progress. Teen years bring worse behavioral and emotional problems.

When To See A Doctor

Babies develop at their own pace. So, you cannot strictly follow the exact timelines provided in the baby book. But, there are some milestones that a child has to reach by a particular age. Children suffering from autism can show signs of delayed development, especially before two years of age. So, if you suspect some problem with your child’s development, then see a pediatrician immediately. You need to discuss the concerns with your doctor. In some cases, the signs can point towards other disorders that need intervention. The symptoms of the developmental disorder appear as early as 18 months. You can observe delays in social interaction and language skills or your child. The medical practitioner can recommend developmental tests to detect the problems in social skills, language or cognitive skills when:

  • When the child does not respond to a smile or happy expression by six months
  • Never mimic facial expressions or sounds by nine months
  • No babbling or cooing by one year
  • Does not point, gesture or wave by fourteen months
  • Fails to say single words by sixteen months
  • Does not say two-word phrases by two years
  • Loses language skills or social skills at any age

Causes Of Autism

ASD has no particular cause associated with it. So, researchers cannot pinpoint a known single cause. Depending on the complexity of the developmental disorder, the symptoms, and its severity, the causes can vary. Your genetics, as well as environmental factors, can influence the condition. Let’s see in detail:

Genetics

Different types of genes are linked to ASD. In some children, the condition is associated with a genetic disorder (like fragile X syndrome or Rett syndrome). In other cases, genetic changes or mutations can put the child at risk of developmental disorder. These mutations can affect brain development or brain communication. Some mutations are inherited by the child while others occur spontaneously during conception.

Environmental Factors

While no strong evidence exists that environmental factors are linked to the developmental disorders, researches feel some factors trigger the condition like:

Vaccinations And Autism

Vaccinations And Autism

Many people believe there is a link between ASD and vaccination. It is not true. There is no link between the vaccination and the developmental disorder. It is a great controversy that has prompted many parents to forego vaccination for their kids. It is not the right decision as there is no reliable study or evidence that suggests a link between the condition and vaccination. The study, which prompted the debate is now retracted due to its poor design as well as questionable research techniques. So, avoiding vaccination for your child means putting them at risk of catching and spreading of several deadly diseases like mumps, pertussis (whooping cough) or measles.

Risk Factors Associated With Autism

Around the world, the number of children diagnosed with developmental disorders is rising. But, it is still unclear if it is due to a real increase in the number of cases or better detection and reporting. The condition affects a child of any nationality or race. But, certain factors increase the risk like:

Child’s Sex

The research indicated boys are four times more likely to develop the disorder compared to girls.

Family History

A family with a child suffering from the disorder has an increased risk of having another child with the same problem. It is also observed that parents or relatives of a child suffering from the developmental disorder have minor problems associated with social or communication skills themselves. In some cases, the relatives engage in behavior, which is typical of the disorder.

Other Disorders

Children suffering from other medical conditions face a high risk of suffering from developmental disorders. The following conditions can lead to developmental disorders:

Extremely Preterm Babies

Extremely preterm babies who are born before 26 weeks of gestation face a higher risk of developmental disorder.

Older Parents

The age of the parents has a connection to the connection. Older parents tend to have children suffering from a specific developmental disorder. But, more research is required to establish the link.

Complications Associated With Autism

Children suffering from spectrum disorder can suffer issues with social interactions, proper communication or behavior. Such a problem can lead to the following complications:

  • Problems with completing their education and successful learning
  • Issues with getting a job (employment)
  • Inability to live without depending on others
  • Stress within family members associated with the affected person
  • Social isolation
  • Getting bullied or victimization

Diagnosis Of Autism

Diagnosis Of Autism

When you deliver a child, it is important to get the baby checked thoroughly for detecting any physical or mental issues. Your pediatrician can look for signs of developmental delays during routine checkups. So, if your doctor suspects any signs of the developmental disorder, then they refer the child to specialists. The specialists have experience treating children with autism. So, you need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or pediatric neurologist for a thorough evaluation. As the disorder has widely different symptoms as well as the severity, making a diagnosis becomes difficult. A single test alone cannot determine the problem conclusively. So, the specialist can approach combined methods like:

  • Observe the child and gather details about the child’s communication skills, social interaction, and behavior development and changes over time.
  • Test your child’s hearing, language, speech.
  • Provide tests to detect developmental levels as well as behavioral and social problems.
  • Score the performance of a structured social and communication interaction of the affected child.
  • Perform a differential diagnosis that can detect the presence of other medical conditions or syndrome that can cause similar symptoms. So, your child needs to undergo genetic testing to check for the genetic disorder (like fragile X syndrome or Rett syndrome).

Treatment For Autism

You have to understand that no specific cure is available for the developmental disorder. The one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for curing the condition. The goal of early medical intervention is to maximize the child’s ability to function independently. It aims to reduce the signs and symptoms associated with the disorder and get support for development as well as learning. Early intervention (like during the preschool years) can help the child cope to learn necessary skills like communication, social, behavioral, and functional skills.

You have to provide home-based and school-based treatments for the child. The interventions can become overwhelming. So, the child needs support as they experience changes over time. The treatment is developed by the healthcare provider and recommends the options to identify the resources near your area that will help you get the support. The treatment strategy is created after you discuss the options with healthcare. The plan you develop must meet the child’s needs. So, your child needs the following treatment options:

Behavior And Communication Therapies

You have many programs available that address the ranges of language, social or behavioral difficulties suffered by the child with the developmental disorder. Some programs focus on teaching new skills and reduce problem behavior. While others equip the child to act well in a social situation or communicate better with people. A program called ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) helps the child to learn new skills.

Educational Therapies

Educational Therapies

Children with spectrum disorder have a positive response to highly structured educational programs. A team of specialist design the therapy, which consists of activities that handle the following:

  • Improve communication skills
  • Develop social skills
  • Improve behavior
  • Children who attend preschool good progress with customized and intensive behavioral interventions.

Family Therapies

As the name suggests parents and other close family members need to learn how to interact and play with children in different ways to achieve the following:

  • Improve communication
  • Manage problem behavior
  • Enhanced social interaction skills
  • Teach daily living skills

Other Therapies

The other therapies focus on providing the necessary assistance for the child to address their different problems. It includes the following:

  • A psychologist can offer solutions to address different problem behavior
  • Improve communication skills by undergoing speech therapy
  • Undergo occupational therapy to know about activities of daily living
  • Improve balance and movement with physical therapy

Medications

As suggested earlier, no medication can improve the signs of autism. But, your doctor can prescribe medications to control the symptoms. Your doctor prescribes medication to handle certain issues faced by the child due to developmental disorders like:

  • Antipsychotic drugs to deal with severe hyperactive nature or other behavior problems of the child.
  • To deal with anxiety, your doctor prescribes antidepressants.
  • Remember to update the details of your child’s medications or supplements with the health care providers. It is because certain medications or supplements can interact with each other and cause dangerous effects.

 Manage Other Medical And Mental Conditions

Apart from the symptoms associated with the developmental disorder can also suffer from other issues like:

Health Problems

Children suffering from autism can also suffer from the following medical issues:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Stomach problems
  • Limited food preferences

You need to consult your child’s pediatrician to manage the condition of the child by developing a plan.

Problem During Transition To Adulthood

Children who suffer from the specific developmental disorder may have trouble understanding the body changes. As they enter their adolescence age, the social situation can become increasingly complex. They tend to experience less tolerance for even small individual differences. They can experience a behavioral issue that can become challenging during the time.

Other Mental Health Disorders

Teens and adults suffering from the disorder can often experience other mental problems. So, they can suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Therefore, you need to get assistance from your doctor, a mental health professional, and a service organization to help the affected person.

Planning For The Future

Children suffering from autism need to learn skills to compensate for the problem they face due to the disorder throughout their life. But, they require a certain level of support to manage the problem. So, if you have a child with the disorder, you need to plan the child’s future. Try to make a plan on the opportunities of future like education (school and college), employment opportunities, living situation, independence, and the service required to make their life easier. The right support can make their life smoother and hassle-free.

Preventing Autism

You cannot prevent spectrum disorders. But, with early intervention, you can manage the condition and live a healthy life. Early diagnosis and medical intervention are essential for a child suffering from the disorder. It will help them take steps to manage social, behavior, and communication challenges. The intervention can make big changes in behaviors, skills, and language development. While you have no permanent solution to the condition or outgrow the disorder, a child can learn to function well in their life.

While a doctor cannot pinpoint the exact reason why a child is born with the condition. But, when a woman is pregnant, they need to take good care. Exposure to certain chemicals can put the baby at risk of disorders. So, women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant need to make some healthy lifestyle changes. These changes may not prevent the disorder. But, it can increase the odds of having a healthy baby with no birth defects.

Live Healthily

You need to live a healthy life. You need to follow the pointers suggested below to ensure your pregnancy proceeds smoothly and the baby is healthy:

  • Go for a regular check-up to evaluate the unborn baby’s growth.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet containing essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
  • Include exercise to improve blood circulation and keep your weight in check.
  • Make sure you have good prenatal care. So, see your doctor and follow the instruction suggested. Take all the recommended vitamins and supplements.

Never Take Drugs

You must never take recreational drugs during your pregnancy. Taking drugs like cocaine or taking any medication without consulting the doctor is not good for the health of the baby. It is especially true for people taking anti-seizure medication.

Say No To Alcohol

When you are pregnant stay away from alcohol. Any kind of alcoholic beverage can affect the unborn baby.

Treat Underlying Health Conditions

Women who have underlying diseases need to get treatment for it to prevent it from affecting the unborn baby. So, women who are suffering from PKU or celiac disease. You need to keep them under control.

Get Vaccinated

You need to get a vaccination for diseases that can affect an unborn baby. So, get a vaccination for rubella (German measles). It prevents rubella-associated spectrum disorders.

Counseling

Older women or women already with a child suffering condition need to talk to the doctor before getting pregnant. You can assess the possibility of having a child with the disorder.

Conclusion

While you have no cure for autism, the child suffering from it can learn to manage and function properly in social situations with early intervention. So, it is important to diagnose and get the necessary assistance to deal with the problem. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting regular checkups during pregnancy to improve the chances of having a healthy baby. Therefore, pregnant women and who are trying to get pregnant need to follow guidelines suggested by the doctor.

View Article Sources
  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323758.php
  2. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
  3. https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/understanding-autism-basics#1

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