What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger Syndrome. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth.
A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in autism.
Medications: Currently there is no cure for autism nor do children “outgrow” autism, however, there are medications that can sometimes help individuals with ASD function better. Antipsychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more anticonvulsant drugs. Medication used to treat people with attention deficit disorder can be used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity. Similarly medications are used to manage, depression, seizures. Control self-injurious behaviors, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Medications might not affect all children in the same way.
It is important to work with a health care professional who has experience in treating children with ASD. Parents and health care professionals must closely
Therapy and Behavioral Interventions: Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training using Applied Behavior Analysis to help children develop social and language skills. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with an ASD often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with a child with an ASD.
Other Therapies: There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any unproven treatments. Although dietary interventions have been helpful in some children, parents should be careful that their child’s nutritional status is carefully followed.
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
- No babbling by 12 months.
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age