A few decades ago barely anyone knew about Autism: They had literally never heard of it. Whereas, today it seems like every other concerned person is talking about it. Why is that? Probably, because of media hype, greater public awareness, increasing rate of diagnosis or perhaps the fear of being amongst the autistic?
Autism is amongst one of the 5 pervasive developmental and neurological disorder that commences in early childhood and lasts for a lifetime.
It is a disorder that causes a plethora of troubles pertaining to social interaction, learning and communication, coupled with repetitive behavior.
This is also referred to as ‘Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders’ which explains why it is called ‘spectrum’ disorder.
The first autism related case was diagnosed by Leo Kanner in 1943 owing to the certain symptoms that signaled out to prompt ‘Autism’
How Are They Different from Us?
Apparently, people with ASD might encounter problems while communicating. They might avoid direct eye contact when an individual is addressing them.
They may also have restricted and limited interests and are likely to indulge in repetitive behaviors, whilst spending a lot of time putting things in order.
Moreover, autistic people have the tendency to repeat their statements numerous times. They may often seem to be in their “own world.”
Parents usually notice signs of prominence in the first few years of their child. However, these signs develop gradually over time.
Autism is particularly caused due to genetic and environmental factors. Therefore, it is essential to take necessary precautions during pregnancy.
It has long been presumed that there is a common cause at the genetic, cognitive, and neural levels for autism’s characteristic triad of symptoms.
Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, especially heavy metals and particulates, may increase the risk of autism. Environmental factors that have been claimed without evidence to contribute to or exacerbate autism include certain foods, infectious diseases, solvents, used in plastic products, pesticides, brominated flame retardants, alcohol, smoking, illicit drugs, vaccines, and prenatal stress. Some such as the MMR vaccine have been completely disproven.
Autism not only affects the brain, but also disrupts the nervous systems and its cells. Nonetheless, autistic people tend to have extraordinarily rare talents, and the tendency to show superior skills and talents as compared to ordinary people.
Almost 60%–80% of autistic people have motor signs that include poor muscle tone, poor motor planning, and toe walking deficits in motor coordination are pervasive across ASD.
Unusual eating behavior occurs in about three-quarters of children with ASD, to the extent that it was formerly a diagnostic indicator. Selectivity is the most common problem, although eating rituals and food refusal also occur simultaneously.
However, there is increasing suspicion that autism is instead a complex disorder whose core aspects have distinct causes that often co-occur
- Stereotyped behaviors: Repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, head rolling, or body rocking.
- Compulsive behaviors: Time-consuming behaviors intended to reduce anxiety that individual feels compelled to perform repeatedly or according to rigid rules, such as placing objects in a specific order, checking things, or hand washing.
- Sameness: Resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be interrupted.
- Ritualistic behavior: Unvarying pattern of daily activities, such as an unchanging menu or a dressing ritual. This is closely associated with sameness and an independent validation has suggested combining the two factors.
- Restricted interests: Interests or fixations that are abnormal in theme or intensity of focus, such as preoccupation with a single television program, toy, or game.
- Self-injury: Behaviors such as eye-poking, skin-picking, hand-biting and head-banging.
No single repetitive or self-injurious behavior seems to be specific to autism, but autism appears to have an elevated pattern of occurrence and severity of these behaviors.
At well-child checkups, the health care provider should check your child’s development. If there are signs of ASD, your child will have a comprehensive evaluation. It may include a team of specialists, doing various tests and evaluations to make a diagnosis.
Globally, autism is estimated to affect 24.8 million people as of 2015. In the 2000s, the number of people affected was estimated at 1–2 per 1,000 people worldwide. In the developed countries, about 1.5% of children are diagnosed with ASD as of 2017, a more than doubling from 1 in 150 in 2000 in the United States. It occurs four to five times more often in boys than girls.
The number of people diagnosed has increased dramatically since the 1960s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice; the question of whether actual rates have increased is unresolved.
There is currently no one standard treatment for ASD. There are many ways to increase your child’s ability to grow and learn new skills. Starting them early can lead to better results. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies, skills training, and medicines to control symptoms. Nevertheless, some of facts pertaining to its cure:
- Educational interventions can be effective to varying degrees in most children: intensive ABA treatment has demonstrated effectiveness in enhancing global functioning in preschool children and is well-established for improving intellectual performance of young children.
- Many medications are used to treat ASD symptoms that interfere with integrating a child into home or school when behavioral treatment fails.
- Although many alternative therapies and interventions are available, few are supported by scientific studies. Treatment approaches have little empirical support in quality-of-life contexts, and many programs focus on success measures that lack predictive validity and real-world relevance.
- The emergence of the autism rights movement has served as an attempt to encourage people to be more tolerant of those with autism. Through this movement, people hope to cause others to think of autism as a difference instead of a disease. Proponents of this movement wish to seek “acceptance, not cures.
- Treatment is expensive; indirect costs are more so.
- There is no known cure. Children recover occasionally, so that they lose their diagnosis of ASD, this occurs sometimes after intensive treatment and sometimes not. It is not known how often recovery happens
Did You Know?
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
- An estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults – and lose school-based autism services – each year.
- Around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal.
- Around one third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
- Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.
We as a society!
It is estimated that 350,000 children in Pakistan suffer from autism and this number is increasing day by day. Teaching and training of these children requires thorough professionals and specialized equipment. Unfortunately, there is very little awareness about autism in Pakistan.
As an early childhood educator, you may be the first to notice when a child is not meeting typical developmental milestones. When this happens, you need to talk to the parents and urge them to have their child screened.
Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness especially on 2nd April, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life.
This year we want to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness to encouraging friends and collaborators to become partners in movement toward acceptance and appreciation.