Autism Spectrum Disorder: Causes, Diagnosis, Symptom and Treatment

Autism Spectrum Disorder
Little autistic girl with teddy bear sitting on floor at empty room. Autism concept. Conceptual image with little caucasian model at studio. Back view

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly known as Autism is a term used to denote complex disorders in brain development. In simple terms, it is a lifelong condition because of which a person may not communicate, relate with other people and experience the world in the same way as the rest of us.

The word ‘Autism’ is derived from a Greek word, Autos which means self. Therefore, it indicates people with conditions where a person isolates oneself and stays away from social interaction. There are different disorders of brain development such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Atypical Autism and Childhood Autism which is also described as Autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder can directly affect the way a person may relate to the environment around him, people and interactions. A person with Autism may face several kinds of difficulty including in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and restricted or repetitive behaviors and interests.

There are many signs and symptoms which are associated with Autism. One of it is that those people who have autism behave differently than what the society has conceived as normal. It is difficult for them to communicate, interact and make a connection with other people. It may also be noticed at times that Autistic people can’t look at other people directly or they may also have a problem with people touching them.

A person who has autism is absorbed more within oneself, for example, that person may speak to himself/herself and laugh at their thoughts and imaginations. Autistic people are not used to any kind of change, and it is difficult to adapt to new situations and places. Autism is mostly caused by how the brain develops either before or even after the child is born. According to recent reports, 1 out of 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder.

It is important to note that Autism has different symptoms, skills, and levels of disability but different other problems including learning disabilities, mental health issues can be seen in Autistic person. Autism can also concur with other disorders like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Learning Disability, Intellectual Developmental Disorder, Anxiety Disorder in Intellectual Disability.

Early History and Discovery of Autism Spectrum Disorder

in 1911, a psychiatrist named Eugen Bleuler used the term “autism” to indicate some symptoms of Schizophrenia. Similarly, Sigmund Freud took Bleuler’s concept and related autism with narcissism. After some decades Autism was used to describe children with emotional or social problems.  Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner did a commendable job in the field of Autism study in the 1940s.

In 1943 Leo Kanner did more research on the topic of autism. He studied children who were intelligent but had problems changing their daily habits. They also had a food allergy, speech problems, and certain stimuli. His discovery is known today as autistic disorder, childhood autism, infantile autism, or just autism. Hans Asperger, in 1944 studied some other children who had problems like holding pencils. Those children were clumsier, lacked particular interest, less ability to socially connect and had less empathy.

Asperger’s discovery is today known as ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ which is a bit mild form of Autism. What we should understand is that Autism has a different level of intensity which is mild, moderate and severe.

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

  1. Autism has several peculiar traits which make it easier to identify the condition. It is important to note that Autistic babies are more attracted to objects than people. They will show less interest to respond, smile to interact with any person. They find it hard to socialize, make friends or even express their feelings.
  2. Autistic children can be repetitive in doing certain things. They may have certain habits like rocking, twisting, and flapping which becomes an obsession as they grow adults. Most autistic people don’t want any changes, and they may develop an interest in unusual things.
  3. The autistic children display higher sensitivity in all senses. They don’t like being touched, and they may have a different eating habit. Most autistic children prefer junk food. They may not respond to certain smell, bee sting, a burn or a hard fall. To comfort themselves, most autistic children are used to making different sounds. They show attention to detail of any objects; books or pictures. They may also have great balancing skills. In most cases, Autistic children are attracted to motorized sounds or sound of Aeroplane, clock, etc.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorder

There has been a lot of research and studies related to Autism over the past decades. Autism is a spectrum disorder which means that different people with Autism have different intensity of its effect on them. For instance, some people may have a mild form of Autism while some others may have severe kind of Autism. Those who have mild conditions can take care of their daily activities themselves, but some others may have difficulty in doing a regular job or traveling alone. If anyone has severe autism then, that person needs special care throughout their life.

Sometimes, it is rare, but there have been some cases of Autism in which the person may be extraordinarily gifted because if which they may excel in different fields, for example, Mathematics, music or painting to name a few. Generally, Autism Spectrum is divided into different subtypes which are Childhood Autism, Atypical Autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome.

In the case of Childhood Autism, the symptoms are seen before the age of 3 where there can be delays in communication, language, play, and cognitive development. Interaction, communication, and behavior are affected in this case.

In the case of Atypical Autism, symptoms are seen after the age of three and only one or two areas is affected out of communication, language, play, and cognitive development.

Similarly, in the case of Asperger’s Syndrome, no symptoms of delay in any area are noticed, but the ability to interact and behavior is affected.

Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder

No exact cause of Autism has been discovered yet, but studies have linked it probability to genetic inheritance as well. An autistic parent may have high chances of giving birth to an autistic child. There can be several genetic influences like genetic mutation which can cause autism. According to researches, building a theory of mind is one of the main problems for autistic people. They may face more problems while dealing with social stimuli, such as reading facial expressions. They will have difficulty in understanding facial expressions resembling jealousy or shame.  Combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development can be possible factors for Autism.

As already mentioned, there can be genetic or non-genetic causes of Autism, for example, the situation before or during birth including the age of parents, maternal illness during pregnancy, birth difficulties and lack of oxygen during childbirth can be affecting factors for increasing the risk of Autism. Use of thalidomide, valproic acid or drinks too much alcohol during pregnancy can also be responsible factors for increasing Autism risks. There was also frequent confusion regarding the relation of childhood vaccinations and autism, but after a lot of studies now it has been confirmed that Vaccinations do not cause Autism.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

It is difficult to diagnose Autism because there is no specific test with which we can identify it, but a team of health professionals such as pediatricians, psychologists, speech and language pathologists can study about the symptoms in the individual to identify Autism. In the case of children, a regular checkup with the Pediatrician can be helpful to screen any abnormality. And then behavioral assessments, physical assessments, laboratory tests, clinical observations, developmental and intelligence tests can be done to confirm it. It is important to note and analyze the behavioral pattern of the individual. It is, however, challenging to diagnose Autism among adults because it can be confused with learning disability or obsessive-compulsive disorder. But specific tests to identify the social interaction, communication, and relationships including the study of behavioral development history can be analyzed to diagnose Autism.

Treatment and Cure of Autism Spectrum Disorder

There is no exact cure for autism but it is possible to decrease the symptoms of autism. Different medication, therapies, and diets can be adopted for its treatment. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors has been proven helpful to treat people with Autism. Though it can have side effects, but it is known to decrease certain symptoms like repetitive behavior, aggression, sudden outburst of tempers, hyperactivity and hurting oneself.

Similarly, antipsychotic drugs and psychostimulants have also been helpful in treating Autistic people. Autistic people often have problems with their digestive system, so it is advised to exclude certain problem causing food materials like dairy products from the daily diet. Additional vitamins and minerals can be included in their diet in many cases.

Different kind of therapies including Occupational therapy, Animal Therapy, Musical therapy, and art therapy can be beneficial for people with Autism. It has often been seen that people with Autism have a special affection for animals like dogs or horse. They can take care of them, and it helps to reduce the symptoms. Music therapy which includes listening to or playing music will help to relax the mind and eventually it is beneficial in treating autism. Art can be helpful in making the individual flexible and relaxed. It also helps to improve communication skills, self-image, and learning skills. Sports activities like swimming, running, climbing reduces repetitive movements, improve movement coordination and increases the possibility to interact with people.

Written by Sanjay K.C

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