Everything You Want To Know About Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. This developmental disorder is characterised by problems with social interaction and communication and restricted and repetitive behavioural patterns. Experts believe that its signs are visible in the first three years of an individual’s life. According to the Indian Scale Assessment of Autism, there are approximately 2 million children suffering from autism in India.
There are 3 main types of ASD:
1. Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)
This is the mildest form of autism and is often known as ‘High-Functioning Autism’. People with AS are of an average or above average intelligence and do not usually have the learning disabilities that many autistic people have. They often become obsessed with a particular object or subject, and they invest all their energy in that. People with this condition may be socially awkward and may exhibit repetitive behavioural patterns.
2. Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
PDD-NOS is often called atypical autism because it does not fully meet the criteria for autistic disorder. People with PDD-NOS have more learning difficulties as compared to people with AS but fewer than people with autistic disorder. However, their behaviour is less repetitive when compared to people with Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS.
3. Autistic disorder
This is the most severe form of ASD, and people suffering from this disorder will have severe impairments. They have major learning disabilities and suffer problems with social interaction and communication. They exhibit extremely repetitive behavioural patterns. At times, they might even have mental seizures.
Until recently, the causes of ASD were not known. In fact, the Government of India only recognized the disorder in 2001. While scientists are still trying to find a ‘the’ cause, they’ve discovered a few major factors that can result in a child being born autistic—including environmental, biological and genetic factors.
- There is no single gene or genetic defect that is responsible for autism. However, researchers suspect that there are a number of different genes which, when combined together, increase the risk of getting autism. It has been found that people who have a family history of mental disorders are more likely to have an autistic child. In a family with one autistic child, the chance of having another child with autism is quite high.
- In some children, autism is linked to an underlying medical condition—for example, metabolic disorders, congenital infections, genetic disorders, developmental brain abnormalities and neurological disorders acquired after birth.
- Environmental toxins, stress, parents’ poor lifestyle habits, their age at the time of conception, maternal illnesses during pregnancy, difficulties during birth and oxygen deprivation to the child’s brain are among many other factors which can contribute to the of this disorder.
- An injury or sickness during pregnancy can also lead to mental abnormalities in the child.
We know that there are 3 types of ASD, and some symptoms vary from spectrum to spectrum, but there are some common symptoms that are visible across spectrums. A few common symptoms include the following:
- Delayed speech and language skills
- Avoiding eye contact
- Staring blankly at objects and people
- Not using gestures while communicating
- A flat and robotic voice
- Hypersensitivity to noise
- An inability to concentrate on a topic when talking, reading or studying
- Repetitive body movements and repeating sentences over and over
- Inability to make friends
- Hitting or biting their own selves
There are various precautions parents can take to prevent autism in their children. These include:
1. Less exposure to environmental toxins: According to a research conducted by The Harvard School of Public Health, the risk of developing autism doubles in an infant if the mother is exposed to excess pollution, especially in the third trimester. While scientists couldn’t really identify the particular pollutants that can affect the development of the foetus, they are of the opinion that pregnant women should try to stay indoors when pollution levels are high.
2. Avoid consuming alcohol and taking drugs: Consuming alcohol and drugs during pregnancy can increase the risk of your child developing autism. The chemical properties present in drugs and alcohol can interfere with the development of a child’s brain and, hence, should be avoided at all costs.
3. Space out pregnancies: Spacing out pregnancies is very important. Studies have shown that children that were conceived within 12 months of the first pregnancy were 50 per cent more likely to develop autism. At least a period of 2 to 3 years must be maintained in between pregnancies to ensure that a healthy child is born.
4. Intake of folic acid as per the doctor's prescription: It has been observed that pregnant women who take less than 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid per day, may have a higher risk of giving birth to an autistic child.
5. Regularly consulting a doctor: It’s important for parents to consult a doctor before planning a baby and after getting pregnant. It’s important to check if a parent’s illness and any medications that they are on can interfere with the development of the child’s brain. While taking these precautions can reduce the chances of having an autistic child, these precautions are not foolproof, and your child can still be born with autism even after taking all the above precautions.
As of date, there is no cure for autism. It’s a lifelong disorder. However, the symptoms can be controlled and improved by taking certain medications and therapies. It is also important to remember that autism has several spectrums, and no two children suffering from the disorder are the same. Every child with autism is on a different spectrum and, hence, shows different symptoms at different degrees, which, of course, will require different needs. However, an early intervention can prevent disabilities in infants as well as toddlers.
Lastly, we need to understand that there is no stigma attached to mental disabilities. With cases of autism increasing every year, we need to talk about it and sensitize people towards those suffering from it. On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Week, observed between 26 March and 2 April, we request you to do your bit towards spreading awareness about autism. Even sharing this article will do, thank you!