“Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. … But autism … is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an over-expression of the very traits that make our species unique.”
Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD is a group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders affecting a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially. The form of ASD could be severe, as in classical ASD (also referred to as autism) or mild, like in the cases of Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). ASD is reported in every ethnic group and is known to affect all age groups.
Based on a media release by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014, about one in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD. The number of diagnosed ASD patients has steadily increased over the past several decades. One school of thought attributes this to increased awareness and broadening of the definition of autism while another blames the environment. The truth is, the rise in reported ASD cases is indisputable. This rise warrants a look at potential known causes and therapies for ASD and caution against scientifically unsubstantiated data.
The following are a few facts from reputable sources.
What causes ASD?
There are no concrete answers yet, but some studies imply that:
- Genetic factors play a role, as evidenced by twin studies where if one twin develops ASD, 90% of the time, the other twin develops ASD
- Mother’s age at pregnancy (risk is approximately 50% higher in a 35-year-old woman, compared to a woman in her 20s)
- Father’s age at time of conception (preliminary studies show that fathers in their 40s have increased incidence of autistic offspring compared to men in their 20s)
- Disruption of normal early fetal development
- Increased serotonin and other neurotransmitter levels are reported in individuals with ASD, suggestive of their role in the development of the disorder
- It is reported that Vitamin D deficiency may cause ASD, and conversely, children with ASD are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency.
What does not cause ASD?
- Interacting with autistic kids
What are some of the symptoms one should look for?
- Babies who are unresponsive to people and fixate on one object to the exclusion of others
- No babbling or pointing by the first year of infancy
- Not forming words by 16 months of age
- Not speaking two-word phrases by two years of age
- Children avoiding eye contact
- Children are not responding to their name being called
- Repetitive movements
- Abnormal lining up of toys or objects
- Self-abusive behavior like biting or head-banging
- Epileptic attacks
What therapies are available for ASD?
- Educational interventions, where a qualified therapist helps a child develop language and social skills
- Medication to help with anxiety, obsessive behavior, etc.
- In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe antipsychotic medication for certain symptoms
- Some experimental treatments include ongoing clinical trials with respect to nutritional intervention for ASD. However, a medical professional should be consulted before any major diet changes
ASD is a lifelong disorder. It requires parents, the community, and society as a whole to make individuals with ASD feel that they matter.
“It’s not a processing error. It’s a different operating system.”
So today, on World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd), let us pledge to make this world a better place for everyone.
5. Bishop DV et al., Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 2008, 50(5): 341-345
7. Jia F et al., Pediatrics, 2015, 135(1): e196-198 (online)
13. www.google.com, autism quotes