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Key Information About Autism

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Overview

Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It refers to a broad range of conditions that affect communication and behavior.

The autism spectrum is so wide and broad that each case presents itself with snowflake-like uniqueness.

According to the World Health Organization, autism affects around 1 in 100 children.

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Types

Autistic Disorder

Asperger Syndrome

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

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Causes

There is no known single cause for ASD, but many experts are of the opinion that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function.

Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental influences.

Various genes may be involved in autism spectrum disorder. For some children, the disorder can be associated with a genetic disorder, like Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome. For other children, genetic changes (mutations) may increase the risk of ASD.

Prenatal viral infection is a non-genetic cause of autism. Certain environmental exposures in the womb may increase the chances of a child developing autism.

Women and girls are less likely than men and boys to be diagnosed with autism.

A study by researchers at the Central University of Kerala, found males can be more susceptible to Autism-like behaviour than females when exposed to heavy metals like lead. The study was published in the journal Molecular Neurobiology.

Insufficient or deficient maternal Vitamin D Levels are associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in their children suggests a research study published in Biological Psychiatry.

Maternal epidural analgesia use during labor and delivery is associated with a small increase in the risk for autism spectrum disorder in offspring.

Baby boys who watch TV for at least two hours a day are 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism by age three, a research study conducted in February 2022 found. The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

In March 2022, a team of research scientists found that the disruption of a circadian clock gene may be involved in the development of autism spectrum disorder.

Specifically, the global or cerebellar deletion of the Bmal1 gene can cause severe impairments in sociability, social communication and excessive repetitive behaviors.

The research study was conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Minnesota Medical School, University of Texas Health San Antonio, and the Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) in Greece. It was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Symptoms

As soon as the child is 12 months old, he or she starts to show symptoms of autism. The range and severity of symptoms of autism can vary widely.

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Social communication challenges and restricted, repetitive behaviors are core symptoms of autism.

Common symptoms include lack of social or emotional exchanges like pointing, smiling, showing you things; lack of non-verbal communication such as nodding and shaking head, using hand gestures; difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships appropriate to the age, such as peer play, lack of close friends; delayed expressed speech and understanding of speech; lack of eye contact when speaking; loss of language skills at any age; excessively following routines, patterns or behaviour, and becoming distressed at changes; stereotyped or repetitive speech, movements or use of objects, such as rolling wheels before eyes, flapping hands, toe walking; strongly reacting to sensory input such as sound, pain or textures; restricted or fixated interests such as only playing with certain toys or discussing certain topics; and being aggressive toward other people or toward self.

"Individuals with autism may appear to have a general disinterest in other individuals – ignoring other people around them, not initiating conversation with anyone, difficulty engaging in small talk and lack of eye contact among other things," says Dr Deepa Bapat, Adjunct Faculty, FLAME University.

Around 25–40 percent of autistic individuals are nonspeaking or minimally speaking.

Autistic children and adults are better at imitating and holding relative pitch than they are with absolute pitch across both speech and music domains.

In 2021, Melanie Sykes described the experience of her autism diagnosis at the age of 51 as “life-changing” and one that helped her make sense of previously unexplainable struggles she had faced.

"Early indicators of autism spectrum condition in children include less eye contact, lack of responsiveness to their name, and indifference toward caretakers," said Dr. Sarang Goel, MBBS PGDCM FID MBAHH, Ayu Health Hospitals.

“Ever since I was a child, I noticed I was different,” Carrie Kearns, a mother of two children and autism patient told the Manchester Evening News. “I didn’t seem to be able to fit in with other children my age and I was always a bit of a loner playing out on my own.

“I never seemed to get them, the games they played or the way they spoke. There were a lot of misunderstandings because I would take things too deeply and miss the point.

“As I got older, I found work was difficult because I would get in trouble for speaking my mind. I was quite passionate and it would come out as me being aggressive.

"I was so tired when I got back home from work. When I got diagnosed, I was told it was because I had been masking all day trying to fit in.”

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Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder is generally diagnosed in childhood, and about 1 in 68 children may have this condition.

A research team, led by Juergen Hahn, the head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed a physiological test that relies on an algorithm that analyzes measurements of metabolites in a blood sample to predict whether or not a person has an ASD diagnosis.

When diagnosing autism and other mental disorders, physicians increasingly use neuroimaging methods.

In March 2021, Benny Zee, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, developed a method to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to scan retinas of children as young as six to detect early autism or the risk of autism.

His method uses a high-resolution camera with new computer software which analyses a combination of factors including fibre layers and blood vessels in the eye.

Zee's findings have been published in EClinical Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

FDA has approved marketing for Cognoa ASD Diagnosis Aid that will help diagnose autism spectrum disorder in children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years who show potential symptoms. It is a machine learning–based software program.

A deep-learning model developed in the year 2021 at the University of Chicago in Illinois appears to outperform a widely used screening test at flagging toddlers with autism.

The algorithm, described in Science Advances on 6 October 2021, generates predictions based on patterns of conditions that often co-occur with autism.

Treatment

There is no medically known cure for autism; however, if it is caught in infancy, treatment can take full advantage of the young brain’s remarkable plasticity.

The most generally successful approach for children with autism is behavioral therapy.

Applied behavior analysis is often used in schools and clinics to help autistic children learn positive behaviors and reduce negative ones. This approach can be used to improve a wide range of skills.

Brahmi (Bacopa Monneiri) helps eliminate loss of memory and forgetting function and improves the recalling ability of the human brain.

Brahmi is one of the safest and most effective herbs for autistic symptoms in adults and well as children.

It is important to work with your doctor to ensure that when medicine is chosen as a form of treatment, it is taken safely and effectively.

It is important that parents work with a registered dietitian to design a meal plan for their autistic child, especially if they want to try a limited diet.

Such providers can help to make sure the child is still getting all the nutrients he or she needs to grow into a healthy adult, even while on the special diet.

The hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin appears to improve repetitive behaviors and attachment problems in adults with autism spectrum disorder over the long term, a research conducted in Belgium suggests.

The United States federal funding for autism research increased by more than $23 million from 2016 to 2018, according to a government report.

Awareness of autism has grown monumentally over the past two decades. Yet, this increased awareness has not been accompanied by improvements in services to support autistic individuals and their families.

In June 2022, a research from the UNC Neuroscience Center lab of Ben Philpot, Ph.D., found postnatal gene therapy may be able to prevent or reverse many disease signs in an animal model of Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a rare, single-gene neurodevelopmental condition. Pitt Hopkins syndrome is classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“This first, proof-of-principle demonstration suggests that restoring normal levels of the Pitt-Hopkins syndrome gene is a viable therapy for Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, which otherwise has no specific treatment,” said senior author Ben Philpot, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology at the UNC School of Medicine and associate director of the UNC Neuroscience Center.

Prevention

Research studies have found that certain actions can help pregnant women prevent autism.

One Harvard study found that children born to mothers exposed to high pollution levels had twice the risk of autism.

Pregnant women can limit airborne toxins by wearing masks, filling their gas tank after dark, and staying indoors when air quality is low.

It is advisable to avoid areas with high traffic, especially when exercising. For the duration of pregnancy, women should eliminate alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

Switching to green personal care products reduces exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Some experts suggest avoiding canned foods, plastic water bottles, and excessive cell phone use.

The most harmful stereotype about autism is that it somehow makes me incompetent, or incapable.... I basically don't tell anyone about my diagnosis, because I don't want them to treat me differently.

— Brooke, autistic person.

An inspiring story of an autistic person

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Srikanth R

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on April 03, 2019:

I have heard it said that everyone is on the autism spectrum, but presumably if this is so, most are low down the scale. Though I am not sure if this is true. There are certainly more cases of autism being diagnosed now.

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