Autism is a part of the developmental disabilities group known as Autism Spectrum Disorders. It’s a children’s disorder and each child is affected differently. Children suffering from autism face behavioral challenges, intellectual disabilities, delayed development of several basic skills such as; ability to make friends or socialize, ability to comprehend, and ability to talk or communicate effectively.
Symptoms of Autism
Symptoms of autism are clearly visible within the first three years of a child. These symptoms can vary in severity in each child. General symptoms which are usually present in every autistic child include:
- Compromised verbal communication skills. The child faces problems in understanding and using the language.
- The child is unable to form appropriate facial expressions and struggles with gestures.
- Inability or difficulty to take part even in a casual conversation.
- Difficulty in adjusting to surroundings.
- The child always plays alone and finds it difficult to make friends.
- Uncommon or surprising ways of playing with different objects, such as; just lining up the toys in a specific manner and staring at them for hours.
- The child being horrified of even small changes in daily routine, such as; visiting the relatives on weekends, or guests coming over.
- Repetitive patterns of behavior or body movements, such as; head banging, head spinning or flapping, or staring at the roof.
- Fascination with unusual things, such as; broken objects.
Warning Signs of Autism
An evaluation, specifically for autism, must be considered if your child is going through some of the following conditions:
- The child is not able to coo or babble even by one year of age (this usually starts by the age of two months or so).
- The child doesn’t show any gesture, for instance; pointing or waving, even by the age of one year.
- The child doesn’t start speaking (even a single word) by the age of sixteen months.
- The child doesn’t speak even a single sentence on their own and only repeats other’s words or sentences, even by two years of age.
- The child doesn’t respond to gestures and facial expressions.
- The child doesn’t maintain or establish eye contact with anyone.
Causes of Autism
The exact cause of autism is unknown. However, extensive scientific research has laid out many possible factors which include; genetic factors, neurological or metabolic factors, different types of infections, and complications during birth.
Research studies suggest that many children have genetic susceptibility for autism development which is passed onto them from their parents or grandparents. Environmental factors can also trigger development of autism in some children. People with autism are found with abnormalities in different regions of their brain. This suggests that this disorder can also result from disturbances in early developmental stages of the child’s brain while still present inside the mother’s womb.
Research theories also suggest that autistic children have abnormal timings of their brain development. This means that the brain of an autistic child grows larger and faster as compared to normal children during early childhood. Later on, when the brain of a normal child grows in a timely manner, the brain of an autistic child shows minimal growth.
The National Institute of Stroke and Neurological Disorders is studying different brain abnormalities which may result in autism, and searching for genes which carry the risk of autism development. Biological markers which are present at birth are also being investigated, that can recognize the newborns at high risk for autism development.
Diagnosis of Autism
If the child shows signs and symptoms of autism, the doctor starts a complete evaluation of the child by performing neurological and physical examination, along with analyzing a complete medical history. The doctor will perform different blood tests and brain x-rays to analyze if there’s a genetic, physical, or metabolic reason which is causing these symptoms.
The child can also be referred to a medical specialist of children’s development disorders, for instance; a child psychologist or psychiatrist, development and behavioral pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, or any other healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating autism.
Management of Autism
Till today, there is no specific cure for autism. However, different behavioral interventions and therapies are designed to deal with specific symptoms, and these therapies are highly effective in providing relieve to autistic children by improving their symptoms. The ideal management plan coordinates individualized interventions and therapies which meet the special needs of every autistic individual. A combination of the following therapies proves to be highly beneficial.
- Behavioral Modification: This therapy includes different strategies for decreasing problematic or negative behaviors and supporting or enhancing positive behaviors.
- Special Education: Specialized educational reforms are done in order to meet the unique educational needs of an autistic child.
- Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy: The autistic child is provided with these therapies in order to increase their functional abilities.
- Social Skills Therapy: This therapy is designed to address the social and language issues in children with autism.
- Medications: Although medications can’t treat or cure the main symptoms of autism, they can immensely help in dealing with the related symptoms, which include; depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and sleeplessness. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat complicated behavioral disorders. Anticonvulsant drugs are used to treat seizures. Medicines used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder can be employed to effectively decrease the hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with autism. Sleep-related disorders of autistic children can be treated with different sedatives and hypnotics. However, it’s highly important to remember that medications should only be given after consulting a specialized medical practitioner and self-medication must be avoided.
Outlook for Children with Autism
The outlook for autistic children varies depending upon the natural tendency and severity of their symptoms, the age at which their management started, and the presence of supportive tools for each autistic child. Some children with autism are able to show immense improvement and lead a near-normal life. Whereas, some highly affected autistic children may never develop sufficient communication and functional skills to live an independent life as an adult. Children with high levels of brainpower show better improvement in language and communication and are able to develop the much-needed social skills to survive independently.