Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also simply referred to as autism, is a term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by impairments in social skills, communication, and behaviour.
ASD affects people of all races, cultures, religions, ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds equally.
Autism has no known cause
Presently, autism spectrum disorder has no cause. Experts believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development. Some identified risk factors include complications during pregnancy, advanced parental age, genetic disorders such as fragile X syndrome, low birth weight, and having an immediate family member on the spectrum.
What we do know is that vaccines and parenting techniques can not cause autism.
Autism can be diagnosed in early childhood
Like any other disorder, autism spectrum disorder has distinct symptoms that allow it to be diagnosed. ASD symptoms are often noticed in early childhood between 12 and 24 months of age, but they may also appear later on. Most symptoms appear before age 5.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 identifies two categories of symptoms which are:
- Communication and social interaction difficulties : these symptoms include difficulty maintaining eye contact, no response to their name, does not notice the emotions of others, using no or few hand gestures, does not display facial expressions reflective of their emotions, does not follow point, and does not engage in pretend or turn-taking play.
- Repetitive or restricted patterns of behaviour/activities: this includes movements such as rocking, spinning, arm flapping, repeating words or phrases, being attached to strict routines around activities like bedtime, likes to arrange things in specific order and may get upset over changes.
A person can only be diagnosed with autism if they experience symptoms from both categories.
Autism is called a spectrum because….
Autism is called a spectrum disorder because it manifests in a broad range of abilities and symptoms. Autistic people can be high-functioning, low functioning, or in the middle of the scale. Some people are verbal and even fluent while others are not.
The most common symptom seen in people with ASD lies in social interactions and behaviours.
Autism is a lifelong diagnosis
Autism has no cure but early interventions can aid in reducing the intensity of symptoms. Intervention targets the behavioural, sensory, developmental symptoms that the individual presents. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, and play therapy are used to improve the quality of life of people on the spectrum while equipping them with essential skills.
Autism often occurs alongside other disorders
When two or more disorders occur alongside each other, it is known as comorbidity. People with autism may also be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), learning disorders, and mood disorders such as depression.
Autism spectrum disorder is a complex and broad disorder, presenting in diverse ways in people of different races, ages, genders, and religions.
Although autism is not a death sentence, it can be challenging to deal with, both for the individual and their loved ones. If you know someone caring for an autistic individual, try to render your support. If you encounter people on the spectrum during work or school, make sure to be an advocate for them and give support as needed.