Autism Spectrum Disorder In Children – Everything You Need To Know

Written by Rakhee M • 
 

Do you want to know more about autism and what causes it? Are you unsure if your child is exhibiting signs of autism spectrum disorder and wish to know more about the condition? If yes then reading the article below can help you know more about autism spectrum disorder in children.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological health condition that affects normal brain development. It affects a person’s communication skills and also leads to several behavioral and social challenges.

The ‘spectrum’ in ASD means the ASD symptoms and the severity of these symptoms may differ for each person. Some people with ASD may have exceptional learning and problem-solving abilities while others may struggle with simple learning tasks. (1)

[ Read: Teaching Activities For Autistic Children ]

Types Of Autism Spectrum Disorder In Children:

ASD is not just one disorder but includes a whole range of conditions with different symptoms.  (2) (3)

  • Autistic disorder – extreme symptoms.
  • Asperger’s syndrome (AS) – mildest symptoms.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) – between mild and severe.

Causes:

Until a few years ago, the exact cause of ASD was known. But with the help of recent research in this area, scientists are able to pinpoint several reasons for the cause of ASD. (4)

1. Genetic Conditions:

Gene mutations increase risks for a child to develop ASD. (5) (6)

  • Certain genetic disorders such as fragile X syndrome (FXS), Rett syndrome or tuberous sclerosis (benign tumors in the brain) can make children more susceptible to ASD. FXS affects brain development. (7)Rett syndrome is a rare disorder that mostly affects females. It affects brain development and causes disability in some muscles such as that of speech and body movement. (8)
  • Some genes make children more susceptible to environmental risk factors that cause ASD. A child may also inherit the ASD gene from a parent or a sibling. (9)

[ Read: Developmental Disorders In Children ]

2. Environment Factors:

Certain external factors may trigger autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children who is vulnerable to the condition due to gene mutations. (10)

  • Preterm babies are more susceptible to ASD especially those born prior to 35th week of pregnancy.
  • Some researchers also believe that pregnant women with exposure to certain drugs such as thalidomide (used for various disorders) or sodium valproate (a drug for epilepsy treatment) can increase the chances of ASD in their offspring. (11)
  • Children who are born to older parents are also likely to develop ASD. However, research in this area is ongoing.
  • Boys are more likely to suffer from ASD than girls.

Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder In Children:

ASD causes symptoms related to behavior, communication and social skills. These symptoms show up in the early childhood phase and may last for a lifetime. (12) (13) (14).

1. Symptoms Related To Social Skills:

  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Uncomfortable to make eye contact with others.
  • Resistance towards physical expressions of affection such as cuddles.
  • Delayed or poor speech patterns, may not speak at all, may lose the ability to speak, preference for monosyllables, repetition of certain words.
  • Not able to understand other’s emotions, may not be able to express emotions.
  • Unable to sustain a conversation
  • Not able to understand simple expressions, questions or directions.
  • A preference for isolation.
  • Unable to relate to others, lack of interest in people.
  • Unresponsiveness (despite no hearing problem).
  • Lack of understanding about other’s personal space.
  • Not aware of common social greetings.

2. Behavioral Symptoms Of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder:

  • A preference for routines (the symptoms may worsen if a there is a change in a familiar routine).
  • A preference for repetitive movements such as flapping the hands/fingers, rocking the body or banging the head on a surface.
  • Not able to understand make-believe scenarios.
  • Strong preferences in terms of food choices.

[ Read: Mental Illness In Children ]

Diagnosis:

There are no medical tests for the diagnosis of ASD. (15)

  • Your child’s doctor may make the ASD diagnosis based on your child’s behavior and development milestones. Signs of ASD are noticeable in children as young as 18 months of age and even younger. An early diagnosis can mean timely treatment for your child. This factor can make a lot of difference to the overall development of your child.
  • Since 2013, diagnosis of ASD is done as per Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is a diagnostic manual, which the American Psychiatric Association publishes for proper diagnosis of ASD. Prior to this, all conditions under ASD were covered as subtypes with different symptoms and diagnosis criteria even under previous versions of the DSM. For instance, Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) and Rett syndrome were also included in the DSM-4. CDD is an autistic-like disorder where children may experience loss of already-obtained language and motor skills. (16) So, now instead of diagnosing different disorders mentioned above, all conditions with similar behavioral and communication problems are clubbed together as ASD.

Treatment:

There is no cure for ASD. However, with the aid of various therapies and services, you can improve your child’s growth milestones. You may have to work with your child’s doctor to formulate a personalized plan for your child with autism spectrum disorder depending on his symptoms. (17) (18) (19)

A Few Examples:

  • You may work with a family therapist to learn ways to interact with your child who has ASD. It may involve communication practices that help your child learn to interact well in social setting as well as with other family members.
  • Your child’s doctor may prescribe antidepressants or antipsychotic medication to control his anxiety and other symptoms. It may depend on a child’s age, symptoms and need for drugs to control some.

symptoms.

  • You may work with your child’s teachers or special education specialists to formulate specific lessons. These may help to facilitate your child’s learning.
  • You may hire a speech therapist for your child.
  • Children with autism spectrum disorders may also suffer from other health problems such as stomach problems or seizures for which treatment may be necessary.

Caring for a child with ASD requires immense patience. If your child suffers from ASD, it may help you to keep abreast of all ASD-related research and information and also, to regularly evaluate your child’s ASD symptoms and treatment needs.

Have you cared for a child with ASD? Please share the challenges and tips with our readers.

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