Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a term used to describe neurodevelopmental conditions. These conditions are characterized by dissimilarities in how a group of people communicate and carry out social interaction. 

You may have noticed some attributes such as repetitive interests or restrictions in some people. This may be as a result of having autism spectrum disorder. 

This post will discuss autism spectrum disorder, the causes, the possible treatments, and coping strategies.

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What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition related to brain development that heavily affects a person’s perception of others and how they socialize with others. This affects how a person communicates because this condition involves limited but repetitive patterns of behavior. 

Furthermore, the term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder is used to categorize the broad symptoms of the condition and the level of severity. Therefore, autism spectrum disorder includes conditions such as childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, autism, and a form of pervasive developmental disorder which were once considered distinct from autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is not limited to a certain race, culture, ethnicity, or social and economical background. And according to the research on 8 year-olds in 11 states across the United States conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, the rate of autism in boys to girls was 3-1.

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This suggested that about 1 person from the 54 participants had autism spectrum disorder. This condition is also more prevalent and diagnosed in boys than girls and the ratio indicates that autism spectrum disorder might be on a rise.

The autism spectrum disorder has been attributed to environmental factors which eventually cause problems for anyone diagnosed with it later in life. For example, most children show the symptoms of autism within their first year. 

Although some children may develop normally in the first year, and then experience regression between 18 and 24 months of age by developing autism symptoms.

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Causes of Autism

The cause of autism spectrum disorder is still unknown. Autism is a complex disorder, and its symptoms and severity vary. Therefore, there are likely many causes which could be both environmental factors and genetic factors.

1. Genetics

Many diverse genes are involved in autism spectrum disorder. Rett Syndrome also known as fragile X syndrome may be responsible for autism in some children, changes in genetics might be the reason for autism in some, while it could also be a result of inherited genetic mutation.

This may affect the children’s brain development and it could also determine the severity of symptoms. For example, having a family history of autism spectrum disorder can trigger the disorder to be passed down through generations by mutation.

2. Environmental factors

There is ongoing research on whether factors such as medications, air pollutants, viral infections, and complications during pregnancy, have a role to play in triggering autism spectrum disorder in infants. These causes are yet to be determined, however, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke suggests that both environmental and genetic factors can determine whether a person develops autism.

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Famous People with Autism

Let us look at some famous people who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

  • Dan Aykroyd

Comedic actor Dan Aykroyd was expelled from two schools as a child because he struggled until he was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In an interview with Daily Mail in the 1980s, Aykroyd shared that one of his symptoms of autism spectrum disorder was his obsession with ghosts and law enforcement. He attributed Ghostbusters to his symptoms of autism which he credits as a catalyst. 

  • Susan Boyle

Britain’s Got Talent singing sensation was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in her adulthood. Susan Boyle who hails from Scotland was initially misdiagnosed with brain damage at birth. In an interview with The Guardian, she mentioned that her diagnosis helps her have a better understanding of herself. She spoke about how she was bullied as a child because she was different. Boyle mentioned she struggles with mood swings and depression but she now knows how to manage her symptoms.

  • Sir Anthony Hopkins

Oscar award-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Hopkins has mentioned his obsessive thinking habit and difficulty in maintaining friendship since his childhood even to his adulthood. He also mentioned his learning differences as a child and he credits autism spectrum disorder as the reason why he has the unique ability to look at people differently and deconstruct a character.

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Types and Subtypes of Autism

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013 recognizes five subtypes or specifiers of autism spectrum disorder and they are: 

  • Autism with or without other associated intellectual impairment
  • Autism with or without associated language impairment
  • Autism accompanied by a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor.
  • Autism associated with other mental, neurodevelopmental, or behavioral disorder
  • Autism associated with catatonia

Based on the above subtypes of autism spectrum disorder, note that it is possible for someone to receive a diagnosis of one or more subtypes or specifiers. A person who has been diagnosed with any other types of autism or conditions associated with autism such as Asperger’s syndrome will not need to be reevaluated.

According to the DSM-5, the broader diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is inclusive of conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome.

How is Autism Detected?

An autism spectrum disorder diagnosis involves:

1. Several screenings: screening can be used to identify autism spectrum disorder in children earlier in life than later and early detection can benefit them. Many pediatric offices use The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) to screen children.

The parents are asked to fill the 23 questions which are used by the pediatrician to evaluate the children so that they can suggest those who have an increased chance of developing autism spectrum disorder.

It is important to note that not all the children that test positive for autism spectrum disorder actually have it. This is because screening is not the diagnosis.

2. Genetic tests: it is possible for physicians to request DNA testing so as to evaluate genetic diseases and for behavioral evaluation. The physician may also request a visual audio test to confirm whether there are any issues with the child’s vision and hearing ability that may have to do with an autism spectrum disorder.

3. Evaluations: it is important to note that not just anybody can make a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. This is why only specialists such as occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and child psychologists can make the diagnosis.

Babies develop at their own pace, even though many are different. However, children with autism spectrum disorder typically show some symptoms in their development before age 2 years.

If you’re concerned about the development of your child or anyone you know, discuss your concerns with your doctor. 

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Best Autism Tests & Quizzes to Try

  • Formplus Autism Quiz: Formplus has a detailed quiz that examines the traits that correlate with this condition. Take the quiz here
  • Psychcentral: Psych Central offers this brief time-saving test to anyone who needs autism evaluation. The test is designed for anyone who thinks they might benefit from an autism screening and it offers you feedback after completing the test.
  • Psycom: It is a self-assessment for many parents who want to learn as much as possible about autism spectrum disorder so they are in the best position to help their child who has the condition.

Characteristics of Autism

The symptoms of autism spectrum disorder usually become evident during early childhood, which is between the ages of 12 and 24 months. However, it is possible for the symptoms to not appear until later.

Some of the early symptoms of autism may include a delay in language or social development but the DSM-5 categorizes all the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder into two categories:

1. Problems with communication and social interaction

Some of the problems associated with autism regarding communication and social interaction usually appear before the age of 5. Some of which are( between birth to 60 months):

  • Having troubles maintaining eye contact from birth 
  • Being unable to respond to their name at 9 months old.
  • Inability to display facial expressions to capture their present emotions such as anger, happiness e.t.c
  • Inability to engage in children’s games such as peek-a-boo.
  • Inability to make use of hand gestures.
  • Inability to express themselves and to recognize the emotions of others.
  • Being unable to focus

If children are still unable to play little stimulating games such as duck-duck-goose by 60 months that may be a sign of autism. As they grow older, speaking might be very difficult for them, and they may develop language skills at an irregular pace. 

They also have a hard time communicating about general things except for a particular thing or topic that is of interest to them. Their speech might be unusual and it could be in a robotic or flat tone or high pitched.

They are also likely to develop hyperlexia which causes them to read more than what’s expected of children their age. This is because it is common for children with autism spectrum to learn reading earlier than children with neurotypical conditions even when they do not grasp the meaning of what they are reading.

Autism does not always involve hyperlexia as only 84% of children with hyperlexia are on the spectrum. Children with autism might find it difficult to communicate with others or share their interests.

Communicating in a nonverbal form can also be difficult and these difficulties may persist into adulthood.

2. Restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior

Autism is also associated with issues pertaining to behavior and body movements in addition to the communication problem discussed above. Some of the symptoms of this symptoms are:

  • Arranging things in a strict pattern or order and being upset if the pattern is not accurate.
  • Repeating activities and movements such as spinning, rocking, running back and forth.
  • Being attached to routines that are strict and repeating words over and over again.
  • Having unusual reactions to sensory input such as taste, smell, sounds.
  • Great special abilities such as musical talents or memory capabilities.

Other symptoms that can be experienced by a person with autism spectrum disorder are gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation. They can also experience seizures, delayed movement, and cognitive skills.

They are likely to experience unusual levels of fear, be hyperactive, inattentive, have unexpected eating habits and emotional reactions. However, note that a person has to experience the symptoms in the two categories to be diagnosed with autism.

Syndromes that can be Mistaken for Autism

There are at least seven disorders that are closely related to Autism. Each of the seven disorders has symptoms commonly associated with autism, including its own distinct symptoms. 

Here are the seven similar conditions to autism:

  • Williams Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Tardive Dyskinesia
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Landau-Kleffner Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Angelman Syndrome

Other common conditions mislabeled as autism spectrum disorder are:

  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • pervasive development disorder

The above-listed conditions all have similar behavioral symptoms to autism spectrum disorder. Also, the behavioral treatments for all of these conditions overlap with those of autism. However, it is important to be properly diagnosed by a medical health professional before embarking on any treatments.

Treatment and How to Cope with Autism

We have considered the causes of autism and the symptoms to look out for, now let us discuss the possible treatments for autism spectrum disorder and some coping strategies. Currently, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder.

The most helpful and effective treatments available for autism spectrum disorder today are occupational therapy, speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis (ABA), physical therapy, and pharmacological therapy. It is best to visit the medical health practitioner for recommendations on the best treatment to focus on for the recuperation of your child or anyone you know with the condition.

As a parent to a child with autism, accept your child for who they are, learn about your child’s condition and be consistent in whatever coping strategies you want to adopt. Reward your child for good behavior and create a safety zone in your home.

Another thing you can do is to learn the non-verbal language that you can use to communicate with your child. Also, do not forget to shower them with love so that they don’t feel neglected at any point.

Conclusion

Early diagnosis and intervention in the case of autism spectrum disorder is the most helpful way to combat it and improve the behavior, skills, and language development of the person diagnosed with the condition. However, don’t forget that intervention is helpful at any age, so do not be afraid to seek help for yourself or your child whenever you want.



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