Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that develops before the age of three and involves impaired social interaction as well as communication. Also commonly seen is a small range of interests and activities for a person with ASD. Originally this disorder was discovered in 1943, by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner. The people with this disorder can have various levels of intelligence ranging from low to normal, as well as difference in severity of symptoms. The key component in all of these children is the lack of social and communication skills.
1 in 68 children in the US have ASD. This is a 30% increase from two years ago, in which it was 1 in 88 children were diagnosed. The reason for this dramatic incline is unknown, it is also possibly that awareness has made it easier for children to be diagnosed earlier during there development.According to Autism speaks many symptoms of the disorder consist of but are not limited to…
Possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers: By 6 months, no social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people
By 6 months, limited or no eye contact
By 9 months, no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles or other nonverbal communication
By 12 months, no babbling
By 12 months, no use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.)
By 12 months, no response to name when called
By 16 months, no words
By 24 months, no meaningful, two-word phrases
Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skillsPossible signs of autism at any age:
Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone
Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings
Remains nonverbal or has delayed language development
Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
Gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings
Has highly restricted interests
Performs repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning
Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
Children may demonstrate some of these behaviors, but not all. Also children who develop some of these behaviors, may not be autistic. If you believe your child may have ASD, contact your pediatrician for testing. Early intervention is extremly important for these children.
Many interventions for ASD are home bases therapies such as
- Applied Behavioral Analysis
- Occupational Therapy
- Speech Therapy
Causes of ASD… These can be genetic in origin from either parent on chromosome 16 or even a spontaneous gene change during embryonic development. Increase age of either parent also increases the risk, as well as birth complications, premature birth and the birth of multiples such as twins and triplets. ASD is also linked to abnormal brain development at an early age. Women who have been exposed to German Measles or during the course of their pregnancy also put their child at t a higher risk of developing the disorder. Although it is a common myth, vaccines do NOT cause Autism Spectrum Disorder!
These children are also at risk for many other comorbidities. Such as…Epilepsy, gastrointestinal problems, selective or restricted eating habits , sleep disturbances, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD and ADHD), Anxiety, Depression, and Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Those who have ASD also commonly engage in self injurious behaviors such as but not limited to…head-banging, hand-biting, and excessive self-rubbing and scratching. Which if not monitored can lead to concussions and life-long brain damage. These behaviors tend to be coping mechanisms for too much sensory stimulation, whether it be environmental or internal stressors. With help from early intervention sometimes these self-injuries behavior can be replaced with functional and non-destructive behaviors.
In Conclusion…ASD is a disorder of sensory processing. What may feel normal to a neurotypical brain could be extremly distressing to the ASD brain. These children can lead very happy and healthy lives with early intervention services as well as love and understanding. Remember April is ASD awareness month, more information about advocacy events can be found at www.autismspeaks.org.
Great Informational References
Warning signs: https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/from-first-concern-to-action/learn-signs
Autism Friendly Events: https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-friendly-events
For those who are more audio or visual learners, I attached two great videos to help explain Autism Spectrum Disorder. The first is an animated explanation of the disorder. The second video is facts about ASD and even covers popular myths about the disorder as well.