Autism (A Comprehensive Understanding)

Autism

This guide covers the basic understanding of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, what are its symptoms, diagnostic method, its causes and how you can take care of an individual with ASD.

Autism means a disability affecting the social interaction, non-verbal and verbal communication.

There is limited imagination which is evident by repetitive, restricted and stereotyped activities and behaviour patterns.

Symptoms of this non-progressive, lifelong neurological disorder, can typically be noticed before the age of three years.

There is impairment in three areas of the life of the person with Autism – in communication, the use of language and in social interaction.

Autism

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition in which two main components of personality are affected; behaviour and communication.

It can either be a minor problem requiring minor treatment and rehabilitation or it can be severe to the extent that the person suffering from ASD requires to be admitted to a special facility for full-time care.

A psychiatrist, Leo Kanner, who worked at Johns Hopkins University was the one who made the diagnosis of Autism in 1943.

Autism is called a spectrum disorder because its characteristics and symptoms manifest themselves in many different ranges of combinations and from minor to severe.

Meaning, Autism is defined by certain behavioural symptoms but two children or adults, having the diagnosis of Autism, may act completely different from each other and may have different skills.

As mentioned above, one impairment of autism includes communication.

Simply put, it means that people with autism face trouble with understanding and comprehending what other people feel and think.

Because of this, it is difficult for them to express themselves either verbally or through touch, facial expressions, and gestures.

They also have a problem with to and fro communication because of that.

In addition to that, autism comes with learning problems as well.

People with autism might have unevenly developed skills, for instance, they might be exceptionally great at music, art, math or memory and that is why they do well on analysis and problem-solving tests.

As autism has gained quite an attention in the past few years, more children are getting a diagnosis of autism and the numbers are getting higher gradually but this might be due to how it is diagnosed rather than having a disorder.

Traits and symptoms

The core diagnostic symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder that are noticeable from the early years of childhood and affect the daily life of the individual, can be divided into two broad categories:

¾    Impairment in social-emotional Reciprocity

¾    Impairment in Patterns of Behavior

Even though the symptoms are visible in the early years but compensation, interventions, and parental support may hide the difficulties these can cause, at least in some areas of life.

Impairment in Social-Emotional Reciprocity:

An Autistic kid might begin to show social symptoms when he is only eight to ten months old.

These symptoms may include some of the following:

  • Gets irritated or avoids physical contact
  • Unresponsiveness to his/her name
  • Prefers to be alone and seems aloof
  • Talking, sharing or playing with other kids does not seem to interest him or her
  • Is unable to maintain eye contact
  • Does not like or seek comfort when he or she is upset
  • Cannot understand his or her own or other people’s emotions
  • Unlike other infants and kids, he does not seek to get help with walking or stretch his arms out to be picked up
Autism

Above mentioned symptoms cover the impairment in social skills. Regarding communication problems, it has been reported that 40% of children with ASD do not talk at all and those 25% to 30% who learn few words during infancy seem to lose them later.

And few start talking in later years.

The common communication problems are:

  • Language and speech skills are delayed
  • The same phrase or a word is repeated over and over again (Echolalia)
  • Inability to comprehend jokes and recognize sarcasm
  • Robotic and Flat speaking and/or singing voice
  • Face difficulty in using pronouns
  • Do not respond to common gestures and rarely use them
  • Trail off the topic when answering questions or talking

Impairment in Patterns of Behavior:

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder also display unusual patterns of behaviour, interests or activities in the following ways:

·   Motor stereotypes, for instance, finger flicking, hand flapping or tapping solids

·   Repeatedly using the same object; lining up toys, spinning coins

· Restrictive and excessive devotion to routines and any minor change in them causes a great amount of distress

·  Extremely fixated and restricted interest. The individual with ASD tends to have interests that are abnormal in focus and intensity, for instance, toddler overly attached to a specific shape of a spoon or an adult spending hours watching documentaries on penguins

·   Abnormally extreme reactions to taste, texture, appearance or smell of food

Identifying symptoms during earlier ages helps make effective treatment plans and to get better results.

Adults without any intellectual or language disorder may learn how to suppress repetitive behaviours and rituals in public.

For such individuals, even if the symptoms are no longer visible, the diagnosis of ASD is only given when the repetitive behaviours and interests were present at some point in the past or childhood.

Autism and Savant Syndrome

Among every ten Autistic individuals, there is an individual exhibiting symptoms of Savant syndrome.

It is a syndrome in which the affected person exhibits peculiar abilities in a certain field of interest, for instance, calculating incredibly difficult sums quickly, playing an instrument flawlessly, memorizing large data of information easily or finishing a book in a very limited time.

Severity Levels for Autism

There are three levels upon which the severity of Autism is checked

Level 1 Autism

Level 1 requires Minimal to no support after it has been managed through interventions and/or medication.

Following are the impairments faced in this level:

·       Difficulty initiating social interactions or decreased interest in social interactions

·       No language impairment but fails to engage in to and fro communication

·       Difficulty switching between activities

Level 2 autism

Level 2 requires Substantial Support and the severity of the symptoms are:

·       Deficits in verbal and non-verbal social communication skills

·       Very limited social initiation

·       Difficulty coping with change

·       Distress and difficulty changing focus

Level 3 autism

Level 3 requires Very Substantial Support

·       Severe impairment in functioning due to symptoms

·       Knows only a few words

·       Extreme difficulty in coping with change

·       Great distress changing focus

Diagnostic Tools and Assessment

There are many tools available but the diagnosis should not be made only based on these test or assessment tools, doctors can give a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder after:

·       Thorough observation of the child for a few days

·       Detailed interviews with parents or caregivers which include developmental history and their observations as well

·       Ruling out other neurological conditions

Assessment tools are the following:

•        Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS; Lord et al)

•        Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R; Rutter et al)

•        Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ; Rutter et al)

•        Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS; Schopler et al)

 Causes and Risks of autism

Exact origins of Autism are unknown but certain risk factors might be playing a role in causing it.

·       Problems in the brain part that is concerned with interpreting sensory information and processing language might be one of the causes of Autism

·       Boys are four times more likely to be affected by Autism than girls

·       There is no racial, ethnical or social factor leading towards its development

·       According to research, certain genes combinations are involved in increasing the chance of having Autism as it runs in families

·       The age of a parent is a risk factor. the older the parent the higher the risk will be.

·       Pregnant woman when is exposed to chemical or drugs of any kind, e.g. anti-seizure medication or alcohol, the child is likely to be Autistic

·       It has been reported by research that maternal metabolic disorder and German measles can be linked to Autism

·       Unlike popular belief, vaccinations and parenting practices do not cause autism

Early Intervention Services

According to researchers, early intervention services, be it for a kid with Autism or not, can greatly improve the development of a child.

It starts from birth to three years in which kids are taught basic important skills like walking, talking and interacting with others.

These programs are not only helpful for ASDs but other developmentally delayed children as well.

Autism

Autism Treatment

There has been no cure found for Autism and no medicine can treat its core symptoms.

Nonetheless, medication can be used to help people with Autism to function better in their day to day life by managing inability to focus, seizures, high energy levels or depression.

While treating children with medications, it is very important to keep a close eye on his or her progress and any side effects of the medicine.

To ensure that the benefits outweigh the negative side effects of the medicine.

Children with ASD are similar to any other kid and they also can get sick or injured so regular checkups should be included in the part of the treatment.

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish whether a certain behaviour is caused by ASD or other health conditions, for instance, headbanging could be a part of a tantrum or a symptom or it could be because the child is having a headache.

Thus, it is necessary to have a regular physical exam as a part of their treatment.

Types of Treatment:

Over the past few years, Autism has gained quite an attention and because of which, many different kinds of treatments are now available, for instance, music therapy, play therapy, Auditory training, vitamin therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration, physical therapy, facilitated communication and many more.

These different kinds can be categorized in the following ways:

1. Behaviour and Communication Approaches

2. Dietary Approaches

3. Medication

4. Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Behaviour and Communication Approaches

These are the approaches that help the child as well as family participants in providing structure, organization, and direction.

The following are a few approaches.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

Applied behaviour analysis or ABA is the most popular approach used for people with ASD. Research has proven and widely accepted among professionals, it discourages negative behaviour and encourages the desired behaviour so that the person improves a variety of skills.

ABA offers many different techniques, few of them are as follows:

·       Discrete Trial Training

·       Pivotal Response Training

·       Verbal Behavior Intervention

·       Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Floortime:

This technique is also called Developmental, Individual Differences, and Relationship-Based Approach.

It involves sitting with a child in his or her playtime and building a friendly relationship.

This way, a child with ASD might learn two-way communication and it encourages engagement with the environment.

Autism

Occupational Therapy:

It focuses on teaching those skills which will make the individual live independently, these might be as basic skills like eating, bathing, dressing and relating to people.

Getting command over a skill that might be of interest to the person is also taught.

Sensory Integration Therapy:

Some children with Autism get irritated by extreme sensory information like sound and touch.

This therapy is to help those kids deal with such information.

Autism or ASD is a neurological disorder that causes impairment in social-emotional reciprocity and there is restrictive adherence to routines and certain behaviour patterns.

Based on ASD’s severity, some individuals can live independently requiring minimal to no help at all in their daily life while on the extreme opposite spectrum, some require full support and care.

The causes are unknown yet but researchers have found few factors that might be contributing to the development of ASD.

There is currently no cure for Autism but it can be managed with the help of medicine as well as behavioural interventions.

Raising awareness for autism and making other people understand what it really is is very important.

Therefore, there are a number of autism awareness shirts, caps etc.

This makes other people more tolerable towards the autistic ones, spreading harmony in the society.

Frequently Asked Question about Autism

Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions about Autism:

Can my child’s Autism be cured?

Your child’s autism cannot be cured.

Autism is a disorder which cannot be cured as it causes the nervous system to act differently to the environment than a neurotypical person, but it is manageable and with proper interventions, the child will have improved functioning and he can learn important daily basic skills.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a milder form of Autism.

Children with Asperger’s syndrome have higher language development as compared to high functioning Autism but they show disinterest in social communication.

How is Rett syndrome different than Autism?

Rett Syndrome is a genetic disorder mainly found in females.

During the 6 to 18 months, the child begins to show symptoms of Autism, however, between the ages of 1 to 4, the kid begins to get better, their social skills are improved and the Autistic symptoms start to disappear.

Please make sure to let us know what you think about the article as well as your comments and suggestions regarding the condition, below in the comments section.

References

CDC 

Medical News Today 

Mayo Clinic

Recommended Readings

 A Parent’s Guide to High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, Second Edition: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive Second Edition

Positive Parenting for Autism: Powerful Strategies to Help Your Child Overcome Challenges and Thrive

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism

Eating for Autism: The 10-Step Nutrition Plan to Help Treat Your Child’s Autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD

An Early Start for Your Child with Autism: Using Everyday Activities to Help Kids Connect, Communicate, and Learn

Autism (A Comprehensive Understanding)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.