Autism Spectrum Disorder | Symptoms & Treatments
Everybody has heard of Autism as a mental disorder. But, what type of mental disorder is autism exactly? You may guess it as a neurological disorder from birth or a by-product of a traumatic childhood. So, in this blog, I am going to clear the most exigent doubts and discuss the characteristics, symptoms, and treatments of Autism.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Well, autism is a psychological disorder occurring due to mental growth disability. It is a type of developmental disorder commonly seen among children.
Studies have shown that this neurological disorder develops among children within the age of 2 years. One study also revealed that the production and processing of speech development can be predicted by the first 2.5 years of age.
So, it is essential to carry out a proper diagnosis and evaluation in the early stages of brain development. Also, early diagnosis can lead to a quick recovery.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face a hard time socially interacting with people. Being socially awkward as they are, they often behave in an unusual manner in front of people. This lack of social skills can create an imbalance in their daily life causing strained work and family relationships.
BRAIN ABNORMALITY SEEN IN ASD CHILDREN
ASD patients are found to have less neural connectivity in specialized regions of the brain like speech processing areas. An abnormality of neural connections in the brain’s frontal and occipital regions is also observed.
A study has shown that there is a strong under connectivity within the brain (helps in long-range communication among different parts of the brain) leading to high information processing within the brain. The strong underconnectivity is quite normal among the children within 3-4 years. And later it starts to reduce as we proceed to adulthood. But, ASD patients don’t show much reduction of the underconnectivity neural patterns. This explains the childlike behaviors observed in autistic patients.
SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
ASD has a wide spectrum of symptoms. And that is how it got its name as Autism Spectrum Disorder. The most dominated symptoms of this neurodevelopmental disability seen among the patients are-
- Social Isolation
- Limited eye-contact with others
- Unable to understand other’s emotions and feelings
- Failure or delay to associate their name with themselves (deaf-like behavior)
- Disability for 2 way communication; can talk for hours on a preferred topic but unable to process others’ speech
- Inability to learn skills efficiently
- Repetitive behaviors like making noises, hand clapping or flapping, scratching and biting, etc.
- Uninterested facial expressions and body gestures and speech
- Sensitive to senses like light, sound, and touch
- Resistance and irritation to changes in routines
A Common myth
One common myth revolving around Autism is emotional mishandling of children during developing stages cause autism. Parental pressure can create anxiety or personality disorders but there is no evidence of it causing autism yet.
With the emergence of modern science, we can clearly understand the causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder better.
CAUSES OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
There has been evidence of a strong genetic link of up to 64-91% of heritability chances of the disorder. A study on the genetic link also suggests that there is a chance of 7-20% for the 2nd child to be autistic if the older child is suffering from the disability.
There is a high possibility of pregnant women above 35 years of age or those consuming anti-depressants frequently giving birth to autistic children.
There is a connection between blood serotonin levels and autism. Higher blood serotonin levels can also cause autism disorder.
DIAGNOSIS OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
ASD is an umbrella term for a large range of autistic disorders which varies with symptoms, causes, and age groups. Children of age around 2 years can be easily diagnosed with ASD. However, diagnosing adults can be a bit tricky as ASD patients (among adults) also show symptoms of other mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.
One interesting fact is that ASD patients extensively lack theory of mind. Theory of mind is a psychological term illustrating our cognitive connections with emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Though cognitive development starts among children by the age of 3-4 years, children with autism fail to develop it completely.
TYPES OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
A wide spectrum of disorders is listed within Autism Spectrum Disorder. They are-
The most prevalent and common disorder seen among the children is Autistic disorder. The major symptom of mental illness is the lack of or disinterest in social and communication skills.
It is a type of neurodevelopmental disability of the autistic spectrum. But it is a gentler version of the autistic disorder. Patients with Asperger’s syndrome are sensitive to five senses. Besides, they lack expressing emotions and non-verbal communications. However, they don’t face problems while talking, listening, or focusing.
Many times it is also seen that such patents can have a higher IQ and mathematical skills than the other ASD patients.
Pervasive development disorder- Not otherwise (PDD-NOS)
The severity of the disorder falls between Autistic and Aspergers’ syndrome patients.
Childhood disintegrative disorder
This is the rarest disorder among the spectrum. The patients suffering from CDD are children showing normal growth initially. However, after 2 years they start to lose cognitive and social skills creating communication and autistic disability.
The medical scientist community believes that a child’s brain can be easily molded within 2 years. At this age, the brain is flexible enough to develop in the direction required. The unwanted behaviors and symptoms that autism carries are eliminated or at least mitigated to a level.
So, if a child is diagnosed before 2 years, it is easier to achieve faster and permanent results. Some of the common treatments for ASD are
- Behavioral therapy
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Help and Empathy from school
- Antidepressants like SSRIs
Moreover, it is not easy to detect autism in a child before 2 years of age. And it is not fully curable. Even after treatment, autism stays in some form with the patients. However medical science has advanced enough for the patients to lead a normal life.