Autism is a term we have heard frequently. Let us see what it really means.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder caused by certain differences in the brain. Individuals with autism often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests. They use different ways to learn and understand things. That means their brain perceives things differently. For example, some people with ASD may have advanced verbal skills while others may be non-verbal. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; Others can work and live without any support.
Autism begins before the age of 3 and can last throughout a person’s life. However, symptoms may improve over time. Some children show signs of ASD within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms do not appear until 24 months of age or later. Some children with autism acquire new skills and meet developmental milestones around 18 to 24 months, and then they stop acquiring new skills or lose the skills they once had.
As children with ASD become teenagers and young adults, they may have difficulty developing and maintaining friendships, communicating with peers and adults, or understanding what behaviors are expected at school or work. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are more common in people with autism.
Social interaction and communication skills can emerge as a challenge for people with ASD.
Let’s look at some examples of social communication and social interaction related to autism:
» The child will be unable to look into your eyes while speaking.
» They will be unable to respond to their own name even when they are 9 months old.
» They will be unable to show emotions like sadness, anger and surprise even after 9 months.
» They will stop playing light interactive games when they are 12 months.
» They will stop using such gestures like goodbye when they are 12 months old.
» At 15 months of age, they stop sharing their interests with others. (For instance an ordinary 15-month-old will be keen to show what they love to others. But an autistic child won’t do that.)
» They are 24 months old and still don’t show any emotion when they see others getting hurt or are in pain.
» They are 36 months old and don’t participate with other kids for games or show an interest in interacting with them.
» They are 46 months old and show no inclination to imitate their teacher or a super hero.
» They are 60 months old and don’t dance or sing for themselves.
Controlled or repeated behaviour or interests.
People with ASD have behaviors or interests that seem unusual. These characteristics and interests set ASD apart from conditions defined by problems with social communication. Examples of controlled or repetitive behaviors include:
» They get upset if the order in which toys or other items are arranged varies.
» Repeat the same words or phrases over and over. This is called echolalia.
» Play with toys, in the same way, each time, focusing on parts of them (for example, repeatedly focusing on the wheels of the toy itself).
» Even minor changes can upset them.
» Repeat certain routines over and over again.
» Repeatedly clapping or circling the arms.
Most children with autism may have the following associated characteristics:
» Delayed language grasping skills.
» Delay in acquiring motor skills.
» Delay in developing cognitive or learning skills.
» Being hyperactive or exhibiting overly impulsive behavior or reckless behavior.
» Disorders such as epilepsy or seizures may occur.
» Abnormal eating and sleeping habits
» Indigestion issues (for instance constipation)
» Abnormal mood or emotional reactions.
» Stress or over anxiety
» Absence of fear or more fear than expected.
It is important to note that children with autism may have all or some of the behaviours listed as examples here.
Screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficult because there are no medical tests, such as blood tests, for the purpose. Doctors study the child’s developmental history and behavior to make a diagnosis.
ASD is sometimes diagnosed at 18 months of age or younger. At the age of 2 years, the diagnosis of an experienced professional can be considered reliable. However, many children do not receive a definitive diagnosis until they are much older. Some people are not diagnosed until they are teenagers or adults. This delay results in them not getting the help they need sooner.
How is autism spectrum disorder treated?
Current treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seek to reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. ASD affects each person differently; meaning, we need to understand that people with ASD have unique strengths, challenges, and different treatment needs. Therefore, treatment plans usually involve multiple professionals to care for the individual.
Treatments may be delivered in educational, health, community or home settings or in a combination of settings. It is important for providers to communicate with each other and with the person with ASD and their family to ensure treatment goals and progress are in line with expectations. As individuals with ASD move out of high school and into adulthood, additional services can improve health and daily functioning and facilitate social and community interaction. Some may need safe housing and transportation to continue their education, complete job training, and find employment.
Different stages of treatment
Treatments can be divided into these categories. Having said that we are including more than two approaches to certain treatments.
Behaviour: Behavioral approaches focus on changing behavior by understanding what happens before and after the behavior. They are widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals and are used in many schools and treatment clinics.
Developmental: Developmental approaches focus on improving specific developmental skills, such as language skills or physical skills, or a broad range of interrelated developmental skills. Developmental approaches are often combined with behavioral approaches. Speech and language therapy is the most common developmental treatment for people with ASD.
Educational: Educational treatments are provided in a classroom setting.
Social-relationship: Social-relationship therapies focus on improving social skills and building emotional connections. Some social-relational approaches involve parents or peers.
Pharmacological: There are no drugs that treat the main symptoms of ASD. Some medications treat the symptoms of people with ASD. For example, medications may help control high energy levels, inability to concentrate, or self-injurious behavior such as head banging or hand biting. In addition to medical conditions such as seizures, sleep problems, or stomach or other digestive problems, the drug also helps manage co-occurring psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Psychological: Psychological approaches can help people with ASD cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine: These may include special diets, herbal supplements, chiropractic care, arts therapy, and mindfulness or relaxation therapies. It is important that individuals and families talk to their doctor before starting complementary and alternative therapies.
Autism often isolates a person from society. But we should understand that these people are looking at the world in their own way. That’s also because their brains are programmed differently. Therefore one should never view them as disabled people. In fact they may exhibit extraordinary talents.
There are so many famous people who have been autistic and yet incredibly successful. Sir Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Anthony Hopkins, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Rowan Sebastian Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Stephen Spielberg and Elon Musk are some of those on the autism spectrum. They became incredibly successful people as they were able to view the world differently.
Remember autistic children are beautiful and therefore they stand apart like a rainbow. We should learn to accept them as they are.