Autism Spectrum Disorder
By Anushka Goswami, Psychologist
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term broadly used to explain a range of neuro-developmental conditions. Autism involves conditions characterized by difficulty in communication and social interaction. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder generally caused by differences in the brain. People with Autism may seem to behave, communicate, interact and learn in a different way than most other people. Usually, their appearance is not something which distinguishes them from others. People with ASD might have a wide range of abilities. For example, while some people with Autism have severe difficulty with verbal form of communication, others may have superior conversational skills. Some people with Autism require a lot of assistance in their daily life, while others may function independently and work.
Autism Spectrum Disorder usually manifests before the age of three and can last the rest of a person’s life, though symptoms occasionally become better with age. ASD symptoms can appear in some children within the first year of life. Others may not experience symptoms for up to twenty-four months. Some children with Autism develop new skills and reach developmental milestones up until the age of eighteen to twenty-four months, at which point their development just stops and the abilities they already gained starts to decline slowly. Adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder may struggle to make and maintain friendships, to communicate with peers and adults, or comprehend what might be the appropriate behaviour in the workplace or at school. They might be noticed by medical professionals if they also have disorders like anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which affect persons with ASD more frequently than those without Autism.
Symptoms of ASD and its Warning signs
The symptoms of Autism typically become evident during early childhood between twelve to twenty-four months of age. However, symptoms might also start to appear later. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition V (DSM- V) divides the symptoms into two categories, which are:
Problems with social interaction and communication
In children with ASD, we can see difficulty in maintaining eye contact, not responding to their name, difficulty in displaying their emotions or giving appropriate reactions, not engaging in certain childhood interactive games, not sharing their interest with others, using few to none hand-gestures and difficulty in understanding emotions and voice tone of people around them. With addition to these, children with ASD might have difficulty in understanding their own emotions or in expressing their emotions. As autistic children start talking, they might have a very different tone of talking, sometimes like singing a song or even robotic type. They might also have very limited speaking and language skills. They might be more comfortable about speaking a certain topic which they are interested in but have difficulty with other conversations.
Restricted or repetitive patterns of activities or behavior
This can include repetitive movements like running back and forth, flapping their arms, rocking or even spinning. Children with autism can be seen lining up objects such as their toys in a strict disciplined order and having difficulty if they have to face any kind of change with the same order. Children with ASD might be attached to strict routines and habits and get upset if there is any change and might repeat words or phrases which they hear someone say, over and over again. Autistic children might also sometimes have unusual reactions and emotional connections to certain smells, sounds or tastes. They might also have exceptional talents in certain areas like music or memory capabilities.
For a child to be diagnosed with Autism, both of these two symptoms should be present. People with Autism might have their own way of leaning, paying attention or moving which might be different than that of the general population.
There can be various causes for an individual to have ASD and therefore there is no one exact cause. ASD can be caused because of any genetic predisposition or certain genetic mutations. It can also be caused by Fragile X syndrome or any other kind of genetic abnormalities. Few other causes can be metabolic imbalances, exposure to heavy metals or environmental toxins, low birth weight, maternal history of infections or fetal exposure to any medications which might have effects to the fetus.
The diagnosis of ASD can be a little difficult as there is no blood test which can show the results. Experts look at the developmental details of the child for diagnostic clarifications. In children where the warning signs of ASD are noticed, developmental monitoring becomes an active and ongoing process to notice any changes which is followed by developmental screening, which helps in keeping a closer look to a child’s developmental milestones. The later part of the diagnosis involves several screenings, psychological evaluations and genetic tests which can confirm the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.