Autism Spectrum Disorder!
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person's life.
It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates, and learns. It includes what used to be known as Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.
It is called a "spectrum" disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms. People with ASD might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may also have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
They may spend a lot of time putting things in order, or they may say the same sentence again and again. They may often seem to be in their "own world."
At well-child checkups, the health care provider should check your child's development. If there are signs of ASD, your child will have a comprehensive evaluation. It may include a team of specialists, doing various tests and evaluations to make a diagnosis.
The causes of ASD are not known. Research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles. There is currently no one standard treatment for ASD. There are many ways to increase your child's ability to grow and learn new skills. Starting them early can lead to better results. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies, skills training, and medicines to control symptoms.
How Common Is Autism?
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
What Causes Autism?
Not long ago, the answer to this question would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers.
First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves.
Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of non-genetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth.
They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain.
It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.
Increasingly, researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in autism. Autism Speaks is working to increase awareness and investigation of these and other issues, where further research has the potential to improve the lives of those who struggle with autism.
A diagnosis is the formal identification of autism, usually by a multi-disciplinary diagnostic team, often including a speech and language therapist, pediatrician, psychiatrist and/or psychologist.
The benefits of a diagnosis:
Getting a timely and thorough assessment and diagnosis may be helpful because:
1. it helps autistic people (and their families, partners, employers, colleagues, teachers and friends) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them.
2. it allows people to access services and support.
How do autistic people see the world?
Some autistic people say the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them considerable anxiety.
In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be harder. Other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, yet can also struggle to build rapport with autistic people.
Autistic people may wonder why they are 'different' and feel their social differences mean people don't understand them.
Autistic people often do not 'look' disabled. Some parents of autistic children say that other people simply think their child is naughty, while adults find that they are misunderstood.
Is there a cure?
There is no 'cure' for autism. However, there is a range of strategies and approaches - methods of enabling learning and development - which people may find to be helpful.
Resource: NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.