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Understanding Autism

Written by
Dr. Hira Chaudhry
and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published on May 05, 2020   -  4 min read



Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in the world, yet many people are still unaware of what it is like and how we can learn more about it. Read the article to know more about this disorder.

Understanding Autism

Autism is a developmental disability that affects a huge percentage of the population. It is the leading cause of developmental disability across the globe, yet many people are unaware of the disorder due to the stigma involved with disabilities. This article is based on a survey-based questionnaire and answers the important questions as well as provides guidance regarding its diagnosis. It focuses on the basics of Autism Spectrum Disorders, common misconceptions, and other crucial information. Better understanding and awareness about a disorder can aid the global community to help and connect with the differently-abled.

What is Autism?

Autism is a spectrum disorder and not a disease. A disease has a specific cause and leads to specific changes in the physical or mental state of an individual. A disorder, on the other hand, causes an irregularity or disruption in the normal function. It lies amongst a spectrum, which means there are other disorders that manifest similar symptoms and characteristics. It is a group of neurological developmental disorders characterized by major deficits in three areas, including communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Communication Deficits:

  • No use of gestures or finger-pointing.
  • Delayed language development.
  • Repetition of words/phrases.
  • Difficulty in continuing complex conversations.
  • Incorrect use of pronouns “I” and “You.”

Social Interaction Deficits:

  • No interactive play.
  • Minimum eye contact.
  • Difficulty making friends.
  • Difficulty with emotions such as empathy.

Behavioral Deficits:

  • Repetitive body movements (such as going around in circles or flapping of arms).
  • Insistence on routine and repetition.
  • Throwing tantrums or aggression when the routine is changed.
  • An unusual approach to sensory stimuli (excessive reactions to taste, smells, texture).

It usually starts to manifest in the first three years of life. Autism is one of the disorders which falls under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders which include:

  1. Autistic disorder.
  2. Pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified.
  3. Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism.
  4. Childhood disintegrative disorder.
  5. Rett syndrome.

Who Is Affected?

In 2020, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and every 1 in 160 children worldwide. It can happen to anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, but it is four times more likely to occur in boys.

What Causes It?

Currently, there is no specific cause identified. Still, it has been related to older aged parents, alcohol, and drug abuse history in parents, and increases risk if there is a family history.

Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

No. There have been some old theories and rumors stating that some vaccines or medicines cause autism, but they have been proven wrong.

How Can We Confirm If Someone Has Autism?

There are several diagnostic and screening tests based on age and symptoms. It usually starts with a basic developmental screening test by the physician that checks for delays in speaking, listening, or behavior pertaining to the age of the child. It also includes a detailed history and interviews of the child's parents and other caregivers. If there is confirmation of developmental deficits, the child is assessed further by a pediatrician and a child psychologist to confirm the diagnosis further using a test called Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Is There a Treatment or Cure for Autism?

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by unique abilities and deficits, thus, one treatment for all cannot be applied. Another problem is that the exact root cause of the disorder has not been confirmed yet, so it cannot be targeted for treatment via a single drug. But, there are several therapies that have proven to show progressive results in improving the skills of children with autism spectrum disorders. The specialist recommends therapies based on individual patient's signs and symptoms, some of them are:

  1. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
  2. Developmental Individual-Difference Relationship-based Model or Floortime Daily Life Therapy.
  3. P.L.A.Y. Project Home Consultation Program.
  4. Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).
  5. Music Therapy.
  6. Sensory Integration Therapy.
  7. TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children).

Can a Child With Autism Ever Become Independent?

The future is unpredictable, and that is true for all children, not just children with ASDs. They do have certain deficits, which make them more dependent than other children, particularly in the early years of life. But therapies and training, as well as schools with teachers, specialized in teaching children with developmental disabilities, can make them independent.

There are remarkable people throughout the world who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and have accomplished great things in their fields.

  • Alonzo Clemons, whose IQ is somewhere between 40 and 50, but somehow, he is capable of creating incredibly detailed and lifelike 3D sculptures of animals.
  • Matt Savage, who is a composer and pianist, taught himself how to read music when he was just six years old. By the time he was 11, his music career was so successful that he performed for heads of state around the world.
  • Daryl Hannah, diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, has been working as an astounding actress in movies.

Myth vs. Reality:

Myth 1: Autism occurs as a result of bad parenting. Truth 1: It is a disorder that can occur due to genetic and environmental causes.

Myth 2: A person with autism has no feelings or emotions. Truth 2: While some individuals show a lack of empathy, they do express emotions such as love, recognition, hate, anger, sadness, and happiness.

Myth 3: A person with autism does not want to communicate with people. Truth 3: Autistic people have difficulty in communication and expressing emotions, but they try to do it in their own way.

Myth 4: Non-verbal children with autism also have an intellectual disability. Truth 4: A person with autism can perform complex intellectual tasks with practice like every individual. Some may show deficits in communication, but they are not intellectually disabled.

Myth 5: A person with autism is usually a genius and can solve mathematical problems with ease. Truth 5: Autistic individuals have a tendency for repetitive patterns. Hence they happily perform tasks that require repetition, such as playing musical instruments, but it requires practice.

For any doubts and queries, consult a psychiatrist online now!

Last reviewed at:
05 May 2020  -  4 min read




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