Autism Spectrum Disorder

autism awareness

Autism spectrum disorder, (ASD) is a condition that impacts brain development, which includes persistent difficulties in social interaction, speech, nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity which differs from one person to another.

ASD is initially diagnosed in childhood around 2-3 years old by showing signs such as reduced eye contact, lack of response to their name or indifference to caregivers, but some children may develop normally until toddlerhood when they present symptoms by going through a period of regression, losing previously gained skills.

One in 59 children is assessed to have autism, according to CDC and it affects 3-4 times more boys than girls. Autism has no cure, while it’s a lifelong condition, early and intensive treatment can make a difference in many children’s lives, leading them towards an independent, productive, and fulfilling life.

Features of autism spectrum disorder fall into two directions and possible areas for ASD which include:

Social interaction and communication problems:

  • Involving difficulties in a normal back-and-forth conversation.
  • Decreased sharing of interests or emotions, difficulties in understanding or responding to social cues such as maintaining eye contact, and interpreting facial expressions, failing to understand body language and posture.
  • Resisting to cuddles and preferring to be alone, retreating into his or her own world.
  • Challenges in developing/maintaining/understanding relationships (trouble making friends).

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities:

  • Problems with coordination or have odd movement patterns such as hand-flapping and toe-walking.
  • Playing with toys in an uncommon way (such as lining up toys or flipping objects).
  • Talking in a unique way (such as using odd patterns such as a singsong voice or robot-like speech or pitches in speaking or “quoting” from favorite shows).
  • Having a significant need for a predictable routine or an organized schedule.
  • Showing intense interests in activities that are unusual for a similarly aged child.
  • Experiencing the sensory aspects of the world in an uncommon or extreme way (such as indifference to pain/temperature, excessive smelling/touching of objects.
  • Fascination with lights and movement, being overwhelmed with loud noises and coping with it by covering their ears, etc..)

Additionally, individuals on the ASD spectrum learn quickly, yet have trouble communicating and applying what they know in everyday life and adapting to social situations, many others have mild or significant intellectual delays in development.

Early diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder, (ASD) and treatment has a huge impact on the quality of their lives and their families. There are no medical tests to detect autism, diagnosis is made based on observing how the child talks and acts compared to other children of the same age.

Normally, it includes an interview and play-based testing with your child done by a psychologist, developmental-behavioral pediatrician or a child psychiatrist.

Scientists still do not understand what causes this disorder, many factors may give contributions such as genes or environmental risks, but ASD is not caused by bad parenting or most importantly it doesn’t have anything to do with vaccines. On the other hand, people with ASD are at greater risk for some medical conditions such as sleep problems, seizures,  anxiety, ADHD, disruptive behaviors, or depression.

When to see a doctor?

If you are worried that your infant or toddler is not developing normally or acting in an odd way, it is important to bring that concern to your primary care provider. Possible worrisome patterns include:

  • Not reacting to his/her name by 12 months of age
  • Not showing interest by pointing at objects by 14 months
  • Not engaging with “pretend” games by 18 months
  • Avoiding eye contact or preferring to be alone in his world
  • Getting upset or aggressive by slight irrelevant changes
  • Self-stimulatory behaviors such as flapping their hands, rocking their body or spinning in circles and other odd movements
  • Having unusual and sometimes intense reactions to the way things smell, taste, feel, and/or look, or responding in a very overwhelming way to loud noises.

A child receives a diagnosis based on observation of the behaviors mentioned and listed above.  However, though a child may share the same diagnosis with other children, each of them has a unique pattern of development and functioning.  Each child is different in their processing of sensory and other information, and his motor planning (the ability to plan and act accordingly).  Some children are over-reactive to stimulations, such as touch and sound, while others are under reactive.  Some children express relatively strong auditory memories by memorizing entire scripts; others have strong visual memories.  Some children are able to carry out a number of actions in a row, such as going upstairs, picking a toy, and taking it back down, while others are only able to carry out one action at a time, presenting with a very fragmented behavior.

Additionally, children also differ in their basic owning skills of the foundations for relating, communicating, and thinking. Some children with ASD can have relationships and engage in two-way communication, while others seem to be very self-absorbed and aimless. Some children are able to focus, attend and commit with others, but can only participate in a back-and-forth form of communication in a limited way, finding it difficult to express language meaningfully or attach ideas together for logical and reflective thinking.  Other children show some ability to engage in more complex social situations, as well as the ability to create ideas and use them in a logical way, but are very limited in their capacity to use these skills to a wider range of situations.  Therefore, while some children may exhibit mutual symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder, their individual patterns, and hence their paths toward treatment, are quite different.

Children with ASD are not typically cured nor do they grow out of autism, but fortunately, studies have shown that symptoms can improve greatly with early diagnosis and treatment. While there is no single treatment for autism, therapy can include intensive skill-building, problem-solving, teaching educational interventions( known as applied behavior analysis), and many more interactive.  Therapy might also include special training and support for the family, particularly for parents, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, or social skills training.

Also, some children and adults with ASD have other psychological disorders at some point in their lives, such as anxiety, ADHD, disruptive behaviors, or depression. These challenges can be treated with therapy or medication. There are currently no medications that directly treat the core characteristics of ASD.

In addition to treatment, regular and special education classrooms can be conducted to help students with autism. Many students with autism can function better if the daily routine is consistent and predictable. It is also helpful if the information is introduced so the student can learn by watching as well as hearing and if students get to engage and learn with non-disabled peers.  The use of complementary and alternative treatments is usual among children with autism, for example, specific nutritional supplements and diets.

Tips For Parents

  • Learn as much as you can about autism spectrum disorder.
  • Provide predictable unchanged structure and routine.
  • Connect and interact with other parents of children with autism.
  • Ask for professional help if you have any concerns.
  • Be mindful and take time for yourself and your other family members.

Raising a child with autism affects the entire family. It can be stressful, hurtful; it takes a lot of time from your life and expensive when it comes to therapy. It is important to pay attention to the physical and emotional health of the entire family.

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