While we have all heard the term “autism”, not many of us are actually aware about what the condition involves. It is necessary to understand autism so that we can detect it early. Studies have shown that early intervention has an impact on managing the condition in adulthood.
What Is Autism?
- Autism, also known as autism spectral disorder (ASD), is a condition that affects brain development and causes changes in a way a person interacts with others.
- A person with autism might also learn things in a way that is different from his peers.
- In terms of appearance, there is nothing that conveys the condition.
- The term spectral in autism spectral disorder refers to the broad variety of symptoms reported and their intensity as well.
When Do Symptoms Manifest?
- Autism can be detected in the first year of birth itself.
- In rare cases, the first year might be normal but when the child is around 1 ½ - 2 years of age, developmental milestones will not be met. By the age of 2, the condition becomes apparent.
- The symptoms seen in children lesser than a year include diminished eye contact and they also do not react when their name is called. The affection with which children usually respond to loved ones will also be absent.
- For children who manifest symptoms later, a sudden change in behaviour might be noticed wherein the child becomes introverted. Cases of aggression and deterioration in speaking skills might also appear.
- As children become adults, they will find social interaction with their peers difficult.
- Be it at college or place of work, they will not interact with the same ease as those without autism. Often, they will also have other mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.
Also Read: Whom to See First? General Physician or Specialist?
Symptoms in Detail
Parents of small children can check for these symptoms if they feel their child might be autistic.
- The child is not comfortable with eye contact and evades it.
- When called by the name, the child is unresponsive.
- Feelings like happiness, sadness, etc. are absent – the child does not show any emotions.
- Children around a year old usually enjoy interactive games. This might be absent if the child has autism.
- The use of hand movements to convey something is also absent.
- The child makes no attempt to communicate (even non-verbally) with the caretakers by 1 ½ years.
- The child is indifferent to the feelings of those around him even at around 2 years of age.
- The child is 3 years and shows no interest in playing with other kids.
- By 4 years the child does not enjoy the ‘pretend games’ that other children seem to enjoy.
- The child is 5 years and does not perform any activity like singing, dancing, etc.
Repetitive behaviour and uncommon behaviour are also noticed with autism.
- The child gets upset when things are not done in a way he is used to.
- A condition called echolalia wherein the child says a word or phrase repeatedly is observed.
- The child gets excessively upset when his routine is disturbed.
- The child reacts in a way that is different from other children when faced with different or new tastes, sounds, etc.
Also Read: Traumatic Brain Injury - Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
There is no absolute test to diagnose autism. Doctors rely on behavioral changes and developmental milestones to confirm diagnosis. Caretakers monitoring the child should be aware of these autism symptoms to get the child medical attention.
The specialists treating autism will have a different treatment plan for every individual according to the severity of the condition. Treatment will involve suggesting ways to improve quality of life and acting on the symptoms to minimize them.
Who Is at Risk?
While research is still going on to understand the condition better and to know what exactly causes it, some possible risk factors for autism have been identified.
- Genetic disorders are said to be a cause of autism. Not all genetic disorders have a family history, some manifest for the first time as well.
- Boys are at a higher risk compared to girls.
- Having a history of autism in the family.
- Premature babies (born earlier than 26 weeks) have a higher risk.
- Babies born to older parents are also at higher risk.
If You Suspect Autism
Some of the symptoms mentioned above may be common to other conditions as well, so if you notice any of the above symptoms in your child, contact a good pediatrician right away. The doctor will be able to rule out/confirm diagnosis and if needed will refer you to a specialist.
- Do not wait thinking time will make things better – if it is autism, getting your child the needed treatment as early as possible is the best thing you can do.
- Depending on the symptoms your child exhibits, the right therapy will be given.
- The earlier the children are given the help they need, the easier it is for them to adapt.
Busting Some Myths
- Vaccines do not cause autism. While research has continually proved that vaccines have no relation to autism, some people still continue to fear it.
- Autism does not disappear after childhood. It is a lifelong condition that can be well-managed with appropriate treatment.
- Not everyone with autism necessarily has a special talent. It is also not yet clear why some people with autism have a special ability.
- Autism does not mean a life dependent on others. With the right intervention, autistic people can lead independent lives.
- Autistic people do not shun relationships. They have trouble communicating so this might make them withdrawn. They might not understand the mood of a conversation (for e.g., sarcasm, aggression, etc.) which might lead to them not being comfortable with the conversation.
- Autism is not the result of some defect in parenting. While parents can understand and make the life of an autistic child much better, the way they parent is not responsible for the condition.
People with autism have trouble communicating; the onus is on us to understand them better to make their lives easier and happier.
- Dec 13, 2022