Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed at a young age. The disorder could affect an individual’s social interactions and performance at school and at the workplace. While there is no clear cause for the development of autism spectrum disorder, there are a number of risk factors that could lead to the development of the disorder. 

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Therapists, mental health professionals, and health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to make their diagnosis. The latest addition, the 5th edition, was published in 2013. This manual is referred to as the DSM-V. Previous editions of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders identified different subtypes of autism. These subtypes included Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder.

The DSM-V no longer recognizes these subtypes of autism; instead, it defines autism as a spectrum disorder.

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder because the severity of symptoms and the types of symptoms vary widely.

What are the main symptoms of autism spectrum disorder

  •   The individual shows limited social abilities which include and affects communication, interpersonal relationship, and social interactions. These deficits are present across different environments and situations.
  •   Repetition of a restricted set of behavioral patterns, interests, and activities. The patterns, interest, and activities should include at least two of the following:
  • The repetition of motor movements, use of objects, or speech. This could include echolalia (repetition of others’ words) and quirky phrases.
  • Insistence on consistency, uncompromising observance of routines, and ritualized patterns of verbal and non-verbal behavior.
  • Interests are limited and carry an abnormal amount of intensity and focus.
  • The person is either profoundly affected or completely under affected by sensory input. This could also include a keen and unusual interest being shown to specific objects.
  •   The symptoms should be present from a young age but could only become clearly observed once the social demands are more significant than the individual’s capabilities.
  •   The symptoms should cause significant impairment in functioning that includes socializing and occupational functions.
  •   All other potential reasons for the impairment should be ruled out. This includes intellectual developmental disorder or a developmental delay that might have affected a larger group of individuals.

What do the symptoms look like

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, signs and symptoms could vary from person to person. Here are a few examples of behavior that could indicate autism spectrum disorder .

  •         Avoiding looking at or listening to people.
  •         Not making eye contact, or if eye contact is made, doing so inconsistently.
  •         Struggling with back and forth conversation.
  •         Does not share the enjoyment of things and activities by involving others.
  •         Not responding, or responding very slowly when someone calls their name or tries to get their attention verbally.
  •         Getting upset by small changes or deviations from a routine.
  •         Repetitive behaviors, or engaging an unusual behavior like the repetition of words or phrases.
  •         Either being more or less sensitive to sensory input than other people. This includes lights, noise clothing, or temperature.

What causes autism spectrum disorder

There isn’t one specific and identified cause for autism spectrum disorder. Instead, it can develop based on a combination of genetic, nongenetic, and/or environmental influences. Some factors could lead to a higher risk of a child developing autism. While these factors carry a higher risk, they are not necessarily the cause of the disorder. 

Autism spectrum disorder tends to run in families. It relates to changes in specific genes that increase the risk of developing autism post up a parent can carry these changes in jeans without necessarily having autism spectrum disorder themselves. It is also possible for these genetic changes to arise spontaneously either in an embryo or in either the sperm or the egg that created the embryo.

Several environmental risk factors could increase the risk of developing autism – especially in individuals who are already genetically predisposed to the disorder. These factors include advanced parental age, complications during pregnancy and birth, and pregnancy within less than a year after a previous pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins, especially vitamins containing folic acid, taken before conception, at conception, and throughout the pregnancy, could decrease the risk of autism spectrum disorder developing.

How is autism spectrum disorder diagnosed

ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by the time the child reaches age 2. It is diagnosed by observing the child’s behavior. Diagnosing ASD in younger children includes a two-stage process. The first stage comprises screening for developmental delays at the child’s 9-, 18-, 24-, or 30- months checkups. Testing specifically for autism should be done at the 18 and 24- month checkup. Children who are at higher risk for developing ASD could require additional screening. If a child shows developmental problems during these screening processes, they will be referred for the second stage of evaluation. The second stage involves a team of doctors and health professionals who specializes in diagnosing ASD. During this stage, several tests could be conducted, which includes cognitive level and thinking skills, language abilities, completion of age-appropriate skills, blood tests, and hearing tests.

While ASD is often diagnosed during the younger developmental years, it can also be diagnosed once the child is older, even during adolescence or in adulthood.

Treatment of ASD

Early diagnosis and treatment can assist children with ASD to learn new skills and harness their strength. Because ASD is a spectrum disorder with a variety of symptoms, treatment should be adapted to suit the individual.

some symptoms like irritability, aggression, anxiety, and depression, and hyperactivity can be treated with medication

Behavioral psychological and educational therapies could assist with teaching life and communication skills, reducing challenging behavior, and increasing the individual’s strengths.

The causes of autism spectrum disorder are still unclear, even though several risk factors have been identified. These risk factors, along with ASD being a spectrum disorder makes contributes to the importance of screening for ASD early on. Early screening encourages the early introduction of treatment options to assist the child (or adult) with autism in learning how to live a fulfilled life.