Everything We Need to Know About Autism
Many are aware of autism in children but have little understanding of its real nature. But what do we know about autism? Can it be corrected? What can we do to help children or people with this condition? In honor of April as World Autism Day, this post will talk about autism and what you need to learn about it.
What is Autism?
Autism is also known or called ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is a condition that includes problems with behavior and communication in children, which involves a wide range of symptoms and skills.
ASD can be a minor problem that can be corrected through therapy or a disability that needs full-time care within a particular facility that specializes in patients with autism.
Many people with autism have difficulty with communication. They don’t understand what other people think or feel, which makes it hard for them to express themselves through words, facial expressions, touch, or gestures.
Difficulties in learning are a problem among people with autism. One example is their skill sets that do not develop within the proper age range. They do not meet the developmental milestone that their age has.
They also have trouble communicating, making it hard to verbalize how they feel. However, many people with ASD are unusually brilliant at math, art, science, or memory. Because of this, they do well on problem-solving and tests of analysis.
Today, more children are diagnosed with autism than a few decades ago. And understanding this condition is crucial in terms of caring for them.
Early Signs of Autism
The signs and symptoms of autism usually appear before two or three years old. In some cases, signs of autism can be identified during the first 12 months of their life or as early as 18 months. Early intervention can lead to a much more favorable outcome for people with autism later in life.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms as early as possible can help you understand autism. Here are the most common symptoms of autism you should watch out for:
- There is a lack of eye contact.
- The child has an intense interest in a specific topic or has a narrow range of interests.
- Repetitive activities like repeating phrases and words, rocking back and forth, or flipping an item repeatedly.
- Not paying mind or listening to other people.
- Highly sensitive to sounds, smells, touches, or sights that may seem ordinary to normal people.
- Does not want to be held or cuddled.
- Not looking at things when being pointed to them.
- Talking in a robotic, flat, or sing-song manner.
- Has difficulty adapting to changes in routine.
- Has problems understanding facial expressions, gestures, speech, or tone of voice.
Seizures may also occur in children with autism. However, this might not start until they reach adolescence.
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder can be difficult. There is no medical test that you can do to diagnose the condition. Doctors must look at the child’s behavior and development first to confirm a diagnosis.
ASD can be detected during the first 12 months of a child’s life. A diagnosis can be given when the child is two years old if all the classic signs are present. In some cases, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until later.
There are also cases where one is diagnosed with ASD when they reach adolescents or adulthood. When the diagnosis is delayed, it could mean that they might not get the help they need during the early stages of their life. Correcting the condition may be more challenging around this stage.
How to Diagnose ASD
Diagnosing autism can be a challenge, but your doctor will focus on your child’s development and behavior. There are two steps in diagnosing children:
First, a developmental screening will tell your doctor if your child is on track. Basic skills like behavior, speaking, learning, and developmental delays are monitored during regular checkups at nine months, 18 months, and 24-30 months. Children are checked for autism around 18-24 months during these checkups.
If there are signs of autism during these screenings, they will evaluate the child through hearing and vision tests or genetic tests. Doctors will work with specialists like a developmental pediatrician or a child psychologist. A test called Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) is given to children to conclude a diagnosis further.
Causes of ASD
There is no clear origin as to why autism happens. But, it could stem from a couple of problems in the parts of the human brain that interprets the sensory input and processes language.
As studies show, autism happens more often in males than in females. However, it can occur in any ethnicity, race, or social background. In short, anyone can be affected by this disorder. Among the risk factors include:
- A child born to older parents has a higher risk of having autism.
- Autism runs in the family, so a combination of genes may also increase the risk of having a child with ASD.
- Pregnant women exposed to certain chemicals, drugs, alcohol, or anti-seizure medications while in term are more likely to have autistic children. Medications like valproic acid and thalidomide that were taken during pregnancy can also cause autism.
- Metabolic conditions like obesity or diabetes during pregnancy can also contribute to this condition.
- Having a sibling with autism.
- A researched has linked autism to untreated phenylketonuria or PKU. It is a metabolic disorder caused by the absence of an enzyme and rubella or German measles.
- Experiencing complications at birth.
Contrary to popular belief, autism is NOT caused by vaccinations. There is no evidence supporting this claim. Make sure to get your information about autism from a credible source.
The Different Types of Autism
ASD is not limited to one type. There is more than one kind of autism, and they fall under different spectrum:
- Asperger’s syndrome – children with Asperger’s have no problem with language. They are even above the average range on intelligence tests. However, they have a narrow scope of interest, and issues with social interaction.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder – this typically develops for at least two years. Children with this disorder tend to lose some or most of their social skills and communication.
- Pervasive development disorder (PDD), or atypical autism – is the term physicians use if a child has some autistic behavior. These behaviors are likely displayed as delays in communication and social skills but don’t fit within the ASD category.
- Autistic disorder – refers to children who have problems with social interactions, playing with other children younger than three years old, and communication.
How Do You Treat Autism?
As far as a cure is concerned, there is no “cure” for autism. However, several effective interventions can help improve the quality of life for a child with this disorder. It is used to create a structured behavioral plan to help improve their adaptive skills and decrease inappropriate behaviors.
Most treatments for ASD seek to reduce symptoms to reduce the symptoms of autism that interferes with their quality of life. Treatment plans usually involve multiple professionals and are catered to the individual. If you think that your child has ASD, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Two types of treatment can help a child or person with ASD. They are:
- Communication and behavioral therapy to help with the structure and organization – applied behavioral analysis is a therapy that promotes positive behavior and discourages negative ones.
- Occupational therapy is given to help them with life skills, eating, and relating to people.
- Another is speech therapy. It is given to help them with their communication skills and sensory integration therapy to help those with sensory problems like sensitivity to sound, light, or touch.
- Medications – depending on the severity of the ASD, meds are given to help with the symptoms and control hyperactivity, anxiety, or attention problems.
There are also complementary treatments that can help boost the individual’s communication and learning skills. These include:
- Animal therapy like horseback riding etc.
An Advice for the Parents
Dealing with an autistic child makes parenthood even more challenging. The good news is that many healthcare facilities and specialists can help you with this condition. If you have an autistic child or suspect that your child has autism, it is recommended that you:
- Learn as much as possible about ASD. Read books, research online, watch videos, and talk to experts.
- Connect with people who are also parents of children with autism.
- Provide a consistent routine and structure for your child.
- Seek out the best professional help for any specific concerns that you might have.
- Take time for yourself and the family members involved in caring for your child with ASD.
Autism does not only affect the child born with it but the whole family too. Taking care of an autistic child is undoubtedly stressful, expensive (talk about therapy sessions), and time-consuming. But keeping your family’s emotional health is also as important. Don’t forget to include this in your treatment plan.
A child with autism is not a burden; they’re extra special. Truth is, they are some of the purest people in the world! All you need to do is love them and extend your patience. And they will surely give it back.