What is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting 1 of 68 children in America, boys being more commonly affected than girls. Also referred to as autism spectrum disorder or ASD, it is characterized by impaired communication and social skills, and repetitive behavior. Some of the children with autism have intellectual disability, and some remain nonverbal all throughout their lives. They can also present other medical and mental health conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, anxiety, attention deficit, and phobias.
What Causes It?
Autism was believed to result from inappropriate parenting, but recent studies prove that although a child’s environment is a probable cause, it is most likely genetic. Unlike Down’s syndrome that affects a specific gene, autism involves the abnormal interaction of at least three to twenty genes, hence explaining the spectrum of varied symptoms it presents. Researchers are still to discover which specific genes are linked to autism.
Several factors have been identified to contribute to the risk of having autism. Genetic factors are known to be a major risk, with studies showing that siblings of children with autism are 15 to 30 times more likely to have autism as well, relative to the general population. Prenatal and perinatal conditions can also be a risk factor for having autism. Parental age, maternal gestational diabetes, use of prescription medicine during pregnancy, and meconium staining are found to be more common in children with autism relative to their unaffected counterparts.
Signs and Symptoms
The two major diagnostic signs of autism are problems in social and communication skills and restricted and repetitive behavior. Children with autism are not comfortable with changes in their daily routine, as they tend to rely on habituation and repetition. These signs are usually seen in children aged 2 to 3 years old, although some can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.
People with ASD may present with the following:
- Shows no interest in people and things
- Avoids eye contact
- Does not relate to other children
- Is not comfortable with excessive physical touch like hugging or cuddling
- Does not respond to people but responds to other sounds
- Is uncomfortable talking about their feelings
- Does not understand other people’s feelings
- Repeats words or phrases (echolalia), even actions
- Has trouble complying with changes in routine
- Prefers to be alone
Children with autism commonly present with normal development during the first few months of life. Early signs can be seen by the 6th month of life, where a baby might have limited eye contact and no joyful emotions. Early verbal communication, such as cooing, babbling, and other vocal sounds, may be absent by 9 to 12 months. It is very common for children with ASD to have speech delay by 24 months. Any acquired skill and speech may also be lost as the child grows. The association of therapists, teachers, and other specialists based in Columbus, Ohio have developed a screening process to aid in the detection of autism in children of different age groups.
Management and Treatment
While some variants of ASD tend to present with lesser symptoms overtime, there still is no known cure for autism. However, studies conclude that early intervention is of huge significance in the development of these children. Doctors encourage parents and caregivers to watch for the signs of ASD as early as possible. Early detection and intervention can promote better and faster skill acquisition. Children with autism can, therefore, be helped to talk, walk, and socialize with other people.
Children with ASD tend to present with varied learning styles, as around 60% of them have sensory processing disorder. They pick up and integrate sensory information much slower. Hence the processing speed of these inputs is compromised. This impairment also explains their limited frustration tolerance and attention span. They are not able to screen out unnecessary inputs from the environment, hence the experience of sensory overload and the inability to focus. This can cause them to completely shut down and withdraw.
Management of autism does not only include the child, but it is a rather comprehensive effort involving the child’s family and several professionals. The interventions that a child with autism will most likely need, aside from the care of a Neurologist, include Speech and Language Therapy, and Occupational Therapy. Occupational therapy teaches the child to be independent in daily activities such as dressing, bathing, and eating, while speech therapy helps in building the child’s communication skills, whether verbal or non-verbal. Other children who have concomitant medical conditions like gastrointestinal problems will need specialized physicians for those.
One of the more widely used interventions by therapists in Columbus, Ohio for children with autism is the behavior and communication approach. This can greatly improve children’s understanding of structure and organization. A common treatment in this approach is the applied behavior analysis (ABA), where positive behaviors are encouraged while dissuading negative behaviors, which improves the child’s skills. Another treatment is called the floortime approach, which focuses on the child’s understanding of emotions and relationships.
Autism Solutions Ohio
Research shows that autism, although cannot be completely cured, can benefit greatly from therapy. At Autism Solutions Ohio, highly equipped Columbus-based therapists and professionals provide various treatment options, which can help these children improve their skills. Through these interventions, children with autism can live a more meaningful and happier life.