Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
ASD is not a single disorder but a spectrum of related conditions with shared symptoms. People suffering from ASD face challenges with social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communications, empathy, flexible and repetitive behavior. Since it’s a spectrum disorder each individual has varying challenges and strengths.
ASD includes disorders previously known as Asperger’s syndrome, Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Signs and symptoms of ASD usually start to appear in early childhood and tend to persist in adulthood.
Causes and risk factors
Causes of ASD are largely unknown. However, research indicates that genes play a major role and ASD tends to run in families. Experts believe that ASD is mostly hereditary i.e. children with family members similarly affected, are at greater risk than other children.
Other factors suggested as potentially being linked to ASD include:
- Stress during pregnancy
- Alcohol or drug consumption during pregnancy
- Premature birth or excessively low birth weight
- Older parents (Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD)
- Gender (boys are more likely to be affected by ASD as compared to the girls)
- Individuals with conditions such as fragile X syndrome, Rett’s syndrome, Down syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis or intellectual disabilities can have a greater chance of having ASD
A common misconception is that ASD might be linked to the vaccines that children receive. However, there is no evidence to suggest that any childhood vaccine may increase the risk of ASD.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of autism spectrum disorder often appear in the first two years of a child’s life, since it is a developmental disorder. A doctor may recommend developmental tests to identify if your child is suffering from ASD if your child displays the following symptoms:
- Doesn’t respond with a smile by the age of 6 months
- Doesn’t respond to their name by the age of 1 year
- Doesn't mimic facial expressions by the age of 9 months
- Doesn't gesture (e.g. wave) by the age of 14 months
- Doesn't get involved in pretend play (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
- Loses social skills
- Avoid eye contact
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings
- Have trouble expressing their own feelings
- Repeat words or phrases over and over
- Give unrelated answers
- Get very disturbed by minor changes
Each child with ASD has unique symptoms and patterns of behaviour. Symptoms usually vary from low functioning to high functioning behaviour patterns. Below are some common symptoms shown by people who have autism spectrum disorder.
Social issues related to ASD:
- Avoids eye contact and/or resists physical contact
- Prefers to spend time and play alone
- Does not share interests and feelings with others
- Has trouble reading or expressing emotions facial expressions
- Have trouble understanding personal space boundaries
- Rarely share enjoyment of objects or activities with others
- Slow to respond to their name or to other verbal messages
- Often talking at length about a subject without giving others a chance to respond
- Having expressions that do not match what is being said
- Having an unusual tone of voice
- Having trouble understanding another person’s point of view
- Inability to predict or understand other people’s actions
Communication issues related to ASD:
- Delayed speech and language skills
- Repeats words or phrases
- Incorrect use of pronouns (e.g., “you” instead of “I”)
- Gives unrelated responses
- Trouble using gestures (e.g., does not wave goodbye)
- Have trouble understanding jokes or sarcasm (Taking what is said too literally i.e. missing humor or irony)
- Delay speech speak or doesn’t talk at all (after the age of two).
- Trouble starting a conversation
- Difficulty in communicating needs
Restrictive / repetitive behaviours may include:
- Repeating certain behaviours
- Having overly focused interests in specific things such as parts of an object
- Getting disturbed by slight changes
- Are more/less sensitive to sensory input e.g. light or noise
- Fixed patterns of playing
- Overly organised (e.g. lines up the toys a lot)
- Have obsessive interests
- Obsessive attachment to unusual objects or parts of objects (wheels of toy cars or keys, matches, clips etc.)
- Follow fixed stringent routine
- Spins in circles
- Clumsiness or atypical posture
- Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
- Short attention span
- Aggression and temper tantrums
People with ASD may also have really high levels of intelligence e.g. they might be able to learn things in detail and remember information for longer periods of time and usually are strong learners. They might also excel in subjects such as math, science, or art.
ASD is currently not completely curable but can get better with therapeutic interventions. Research shows that early intervention can lead to better management of symptoms. The wide range of challenges that people with ASD suffer from means that there is no single best treatment for ASD. A doctor or a health care professional provides a treatment program best suited for your child after carrying out careful assessments and evaluations. The treatment for ASD may include therapy or medication depending on the type and severity of symptoms.
- Mental-Health Counselling: People with ASD generally go to professionals who provide behavioural, psychological, educational interventions.
- Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy may help people with Autism develop the essential skills needed to function properly and independently in daily lives.
- Speech-Language Therapy: Speech-Language Therapy plays an important role in autism treatment. An SLP can help children build communication and social skills in various settings.
- Medication: A doctor may use medication to treat some symptoms of ASD. Medication is prescribed by a doctor after consultation with the parents for Irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity.