Complex neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs communication and social skills in children. It also implies restrictive and repetitive activities, behaviors and interests. Autism Spectrum Disorder includes: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

Causes

Exact cause is unknown

 

Judging by the wide range of symptoms and level of severity, it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors influence the disorder’s occurrence and development

 

Some genetic disorders are associated with ASD: Rett syndrome (postnatal neurological disorder that is characterized by small hands and feet and also slow head growth rate), fragile X syndrome (Martin-Bell syndrome, causes intellectual disabilities, behavioral and learning difficulties)

 

Possible environmental triggers: viral infections, air pollutants, pregnancy complications

Symptoms and signs

Social interaction, communication and behavior is impaired

 

Each child has different behavioral patterns and severity levels

 

ASD symptoms can appear from infancy to the first months or years of life

 

Withdrawn attitude

 

Aggressiveness

 

Loss of language skills that have been previously acquired

 

Symptoms regarding social interaction and communication skills:

Avoiding eye contact

 

No facial expressions

 

Not expressing emotions, feelings and apparently disregarding the ones of others

 

Preferring to play alone

 

Dislikes/avoids cuddling or holding

 

Not responding to his/her own name

 

Speaking difficulties: delayed speech, losing previously acquired skills, not speaking at all

 

Lacking conversational skills (staring a conversation only to request things)

 

Abnormal tone or rhythm (robot-like voice)

 

Repeating words or phrases but not understanding how and when to use them

 

Difficulty in understanding simple requests, questions, directions

 

Passive, aggressive or disruptive attitude when it comes to social interactions

 

Difficulties in developing and maintaining relationships

 

Inability to understand how social interaction works

 

Symptoms regarding behavioral patterns:

Repetitive movements: rocking, spinning, head-banging

 

Needs precise routines or rituals – becomes very disturbed at the smallest change in them

 

Uncooperative

 

Dislikes and resists change

 

Coordination problems

 

Strange or exaggerated movements: walking on toes, clumsiness, rigidity

 

Sensitivity to light, noise, touch

 

Apparent high pain threshold

 

Lack of interest for imaginative or imitative play-time

 

Abnormal fixation/interest for an object or activity

 

Strange food preferences: only certain foods, of certain colors or textures

Advice

You should consider seeing a doctor if your child:

Does not mimic or respond to sounds/facial expressions by 9 months

 

Does not “baby talk” by 12 months

 

Does not say any word by 16 months

 

Does not say at least two-word sentences by 24 months

 

Loses communication or social skills suddenly, at any age

 

Diagnosis is established after observing delayed developmental signs at regular check-ups. It is based on symptom criteria as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association)

 

Specialists: child psychologist, developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist

 

An ASD specialist may observe and ask about the child’s social interactions, manifestations, communication skills and give tests that assess language, speech, developmental level and social behavior

 

Genetic testing can be recommended to check for Fragile X syndrome

 

There is no miraculous, instant cure for ASD, nor a treatment course that can fit the needs of every child

 

It takes time, patience and help from specialists – the focus is to minimize symptoms and encourage normal development and learning

 

Educational therapies: specialized, well-structured educational programs

 

Behavior and communication therapies: programs focused on dealing with behavioral and communication issues and teaching new skills

 

Family therapies: parents and family members are “trained” to interact with children with ASD in a way that encourages the development of social, communicational and behavioral skills

 

Creative therapies: art therapies, music therapy

 

Medication – only to keep certain symptoms under control: antidepressants (for anxiety), antipsychotics (for severe behavioral issues)

MISCONCEPTIONS
  • Children and adults with ASD do not care about others

     

    Children with ASD cannot acquire social skills

     

    No adult with ASD can lead a normal, successful life

     

    ASD is caused by vaccines

     

    The main cause of ASD is represented by unfit and unloving parents

     

    All children with ASD are good at math and at memorizing information

Statistics

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014)

Fastest growing developmental disorder in the US

 

Boys seem to be five times more likely to develop ASD

 

Prevalence in the US: 1 in 68 births

 

3.5 million Americans live with ASD

 

Around 700,000 people in the UK are affected by ASD

 

Global prevalence: 62 cases/100,000 people (2012)

Did you know?

Many “researchers” have expressed their opinion on how to treat ASD, but not all of their suggestions have been efficient… or safe for that matter. One example is chelation therapy which consists in removing mercury and other heavy metals from the body. The aim is to minimize ASD symptoms through this process, but no precise link has been identified between mercury and ASD. The gruesome result is that some children have died after this course of treatment.

 

Intelligence varies from child to child. Most children that are diagnosed with ASD show signs of lower than normal intelligence, but this is not necessarily the general conclusion as a good part of children with ASD have normal to high intelligence (they are quick learners but have trouble applying theoretical concepts to everyday life). A small number of ASD cases are considered geniuses in specific areas such as music, mathematics, art.

 

Parents that already have a child with ASD have a 20% risk of having another child with the same disorder.

 

Apparently, there seems to be a link between the parents’ age and ASD occurrence

 

Autism did not clinically exist until 1944

 

World Autism Awareness Day: April 2

 

Famous people with autism: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, Andy Warhol, Lewis Carroll, Susan Boyle