The complexity of autism disorders means that it can be difficult to pinpoint causes, making it difficult to assess properly, or to even understand the problem on more than a basic level.
Fortunately, researchers are unraveling links and finding new information about ASD on a regular basis. The ever-expanding body of research can make it difficult to stay abreast of the latest discoveries about autism.
However, by better understanding the disorder, the different types of autism, and who is most likely to be affected, you can gain new insight and greater knowledge about how to best assist autistic individuals in your care.
A Clinical Understanding of Autism
Used as a general term for a complex group of brain development disorders, autism (or ASD) can best be identified by difficulties with social interactions, underdevelopment or non-development of verbal and nonverbal communication, and behaviors that are repetitive.
These symptoms may all be present in some degree, or they may present as discrete indicators, possibly increasing or changing over time. Many of the most obvious symptoms don’t typically appear until the toddler years, between twenty-four and thirty-six months of age.
Types of ASD
Autism spectrum disorders are classified in three primary categories:
- Autistic Disorder, also known as “classic” autism – Those suffering from classic autism may exhibit marked delays in language development, specific issues with social interactions and communications, and interests or behaviors that may be viewed as “unusual”. This type of autism also often presents with intellectual disabilities.
- Asperger’s Syndrome – Those who have this type of autism often have “unusual” behaviors and interests, as well as milder forms of social challenges. Individuals with Asperger’s typically do not have intellectual difficulties or communication problems.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS, which may also be called “atypical autism” – This classification covers those who have fewer, milder symptoms than individuals diagnosed with either classic autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. The symptoms typically cause challenges in both social interactions and communications.
Any form of autism can affect an individual’s ability to communicate well or navigate social interactions, but some autism spectrum disorders can be much more disruptive than others.
Regardless of the type of autism spectrum disorder an individual may be diagnosed with, early intervention and therapy can improve outcomes and impart valuable coping skills.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Autism often presents by a child’s third year and the symptoms are present throughout the child’s lifetime. While symptoms can improve over time, this is often the result of early, aggressive intervention and therapeutic techniques designed to assist autistic individuals with social and communication skills.
Some symptoms may appear within the first few months after birth, but others may not make an appearance until twenty-four months of age or later.
Some children with autism experience development and milestones that are within normal ranges until around eighteen months to two years of age. At that point, new skills are no longer gained when they should be, and skills that have been developed may suddenly no longer be present.
Early signs of autism include:
- Failure to respond to their name by one year of age.
- Not pointing at interesting objects by the age of fourteen months.
- Not “playing pretend” by eighteen months of age.
- Marked avoidance of eye contact and a desire to be alone.
- Inability to understand the feelings displayed by others, or to talk about their own.
- Delayed skills in the areas of speech and communication.
- Echolalia, or excessive repetition of certain phrases or single words.
- Responding to questions with unrelated answers.
- Being particularly sensitive to minor changes in personal environment and routines.
- Exhibiting interests in an obsessive manner.
- Repetitive motions like hand flapping, rocking their body, or spinning in circles.
- Reacting oddly to the taste, smell, texture, appearance, or sound of everyday things.
Regular visits to a pediatrician can help identify any areas of concern with regard to typical developmental milestones.
Understanding Who is Most at Risk for Autism
According to information provided by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in 2014, approximately one in every 68 children have been diagnosed or identified as having a disorder on the autism spectrum.
This is an increase from statistics released in 2000 that pegged the incidence of autism at one in every 88 children. The scientific community has determined that the increase in cases of autism is not fully explained by increased awareness and more accurate diagnosis. However, the exact cause has not yet been determined.
Boys have a risk of developing ASD that is five times greater than girls, with one in every 48 boys and one in every 252 girls diagnosed. The reason for this disparity is not currently understood.
In fact, scientists are still searching for the answers as to why autism occurs in the first place. There’s a general consensus among researchers that there are many factors which could contribute to the development of autism, including genetics, biological factors, and environmental influences.
Genetics may prove to be the most powerful factor. This is borne out by data showing children with a parent or sibling with autism have a higher chance of being autistic. Approximately one of every ten children with autism also has a genetic disorder.
These include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, chromosomal disorders, and tuberous sclerosis, among others. Autism may even begin in the womb, either through some developmental issue or through the introduction of harmful substances like valproic acid (an anticonvulsant) or thalidomide (an immunomodulator).
There are still questions as to the origins and causes of ASD, but some causes have been ruled out by researchers. Bad parenting was once thought to trigger autism, but this has been found to be untrue.
There was also some question about the safety of vaccinations for infants and toddlers, but further research has found no evidence that vaccines cause autism. The quest continues for an improved understanding of what causes autism, why it occurs, and how best to help those who have been diagnosed.
To get more resources on autism – especially in children – contact us online or call us at 804-521-5571.