Autism is a brain development disorder which usually occurs in the first few years of childhood, and is characterized by problems with non-verbal communication and social interaction.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as autism, represents a broad group of learning disability disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with non-verbal communications, and repetitive behavior or severely limited activities and interests. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood developmental disorders. The symptoms usually appear before the child is 3 years old. According to the research by Centers for Disease Control Prevention in 2007, autism affects 1 in every 150 children in the United States. Statistics also show that it is three times more common in boys than in girls.
Autism is characterized by three distinctive behavior. There are certain physical characteristics like difficulties with social interaction, display problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, and exhibition of obsessive interests. These behavior can range from mild symptoms to disabling. As autism varies widely in severity and symptoms, it may go unrecognized when debilitating disabilities mask it. In almost 75% of cases, children also have mental retardation, and find it difficult to bond with their parents or other family members.
The signs and symptoms of autism usually become observable in early childhood. It includes a wide spectrum of symptoms, though each autistic child will exhibit a unique mixture of these behavior, from mild symptoms to severe ones.
- Difficulty with verbal communication, including problems using and understanding languages.
- Difficulty with non-verbal communication, like gestures and facial expressions.
- Even when the child has the ability to speak, there is the inability to participate in a conversation.
- Not able to make friends and preferring to play alone.
- Finds it difficult to socially interact and relate to people, and to his or her surroundings.
- Unique and unusual ways of playing with toys, like lining them only in a particular way.
- Not capable of imagining.
- Unable to adjust to changes in routine, and unreasonable insistence on following the regular routine in detail.
- Obsession with unusual objects or parts of objects.
- Repetitive body movements or patterns of behavior, like hand clapping, head banging, or spinning.
However, each child develops at their own pace, some may develop quickly than others, so, you should consider an evaluation if any of the following symptoms are noticed:
- The child avoids eye contact as much as possible.
- The child does not babble or coo by the time he or she is one year old.
- It does not gesture in any form of a point or wave by the age of one year.
- The child does not start saying single words by the age of 16 months.
- The child does not start saying two-word phrases by the age of 2 years.
- The child has lost all social skills.
Diagnosis is based on standardized testing, plus a clinical evaluation by a specialist. These professionals are usually psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, pediatric neurologists or medical geneticists.
The diagnosis is made when there are a specific number of symptoms as defined by the Diagnostic and Standard Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Some commonly used diagnostic tests are the CARS (Childhood Autism Rating Scale), the ABC (Autism Behavior Checklist), and the GARS (Gilliam Autism Rating Scale). Formal diagnosis by a specialist usually depends on completing the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale) and ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised).
The CHAT (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) is often used in pediatrician’s offices to screen for the symptoms of autism. Also, when physical features like small head size or brain malformations are present, or there is a family history of relatives with autism, genetic testing such as chromosome analysis and single-gene testing is done.
Though autism is a disorder that does not have a foolproof treatment plan and cure, there are treatments available to bring about marked improvement. There are a number of special therapies and behavioral interventions that target the development of language and social skills. Also, there are a lot of support groups available for family members to help understand and cope with their autistic children. But most of all, parents need to provide love and support to the child.
Though there is no cure found for autism as yet, but there are a lot of therapies and behavioral interventions designed to remedy specific symptoms, and bring about substantial improvement. But the best remedy that one can use for an autistic child is to shower him/her with ample love and affection.