Autism is also known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) owing to the range (a large spectrum) of autism spectrum disorder symptoms this condition is associated with.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an intricate neurodevelopmental (neurobehavioral disorder) disorder characterized by the impairment of social interaction, language and communication skills along with rigid and repetitive behaviours. Autism spectrum disorders are often associated with other behavioural symptoms including abnormal, repetitive or stereotyped behaviour and abnormal processing. Cognitive impairment and individual symptoms and abnormal behavioural patterns vary across autism spectrum disorders

Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. It knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, or educational levels do not affect a child’s chance of being autistic.

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are classified as spectrum disorders as symptoms associated with these disorders vary widely in severity and patterns among individuals. All the disorders share common origin and features. ASDs comprise a range of brain disorders that portray restricted patterns of behaviours and social interactions and communications impairment.

What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders?

ASD symptoms may vary and can manifest suddenly or gradually. They can also be mild to severe. The symptoms may be there from birth or may become apparent from a few months after birth. Most commonly the symptoms may manifest during the 12 to 36-month period.

Children exhibit social deficits – unattentive, avoid eye contact and social interactions, resist attention or passively accept attention

  • They fail to understand social cues and exhibit emotional reciprocity
  • They become disruptive or aggressive sometimes
  • They have difficulty controlling emotions
  • They show frustration when presented with a new environment or situation
  • They lose control, pull hair, bang their head and bit their arm.

Language or communication deficits: lack proper communication skills or the ability to communicate. Communication difficulties vary among autistic children.

They lack the ability to sustain or initiate conversation or show difficulty initiating conversation or don’t give others time to respond.

Some children may have premature language developmental stoppage or abnormality; others may experience delays in language development; some children communicate in an abnormal manner – by repeating words or phrases or by mindlessly repeating what others say or what they hear (echolalia).

Autistic children have difficulty expressing what they want or require. Sometimes, reading their body language and understanding their facial expression is difficult. Their facial expressions, gestures, voice, emotions and verbal content do not match.

Children with autism seem not to pay any attention to someone who calls them uttering their names or they remain deaf to someone who tries to begin a conversation with them.

Repetitive Behaviours – children exhibit certain behaviours which are quite stereotyped, repetitive and restricted. Their activities, interests, behaviours and patterns are quite unusual. For instance, a child – instead of playing with toys, starts spending a long time arranging the toys in some specific manner.

Some children show profoundness with certain topics and activities, such as preoccupation with pathways and obsessiveness with studying maps.

Autistic children are sometimes very particular about maintaining consistency in their environment – any subtle alteration in their routine can dramatically result in unusual mood swings or upset them.

Odd and Repetitive Behaviours – arm freezing, flapping, repetitive motions of arms – rocking back and forth, abrupt movement of hands, walking on toes and other such extreme or subtle motions can be seen in children with autism.

Sensory Difficulties: This is often seen in autistic children. They are unable to balance their senses properly – maybe, their brain lacks the ability to do so.

Children with autism are very sensitive to some types of sounds, lights, cold, pain, smells, tastes and textures. Sometimes autistic children abnormally react to certain things that usually don’t bother to other children, but seem to be unaffected by cold and pain.

Some children surprisingly show weird responses as their senses are disordered – for instance, touching some texture may prompt gagging response in them.

Unusual Abilities – In some rare cases, some autistic children exhibit extra-ordinary skills – for instance, they play an instrument without undergoing any sort of training, draw pictures at a very young age and draw detailed patterns and pictures quite remarkably.

Sometimes, a few autistic children exhibit a particular set of skills which we call as savant skills or islets of intelligence. For instance, they memorize lists of items or names.

Do gene mutations affect autism-related genes?

Yes, single gene mutation may lead to big effects in an autism-related gene.

Why Autism spectrum disorder is more common in boys than in girls?

According to a study, there is one underlying mechanism that provides insights into why there is a higher prevalence of autism in males compared to females.

Source: NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

According to a study conducted at NIH, a single amino acid change in the NLGN4 gene may drive this difference in some cases. This gene has been linked to autism symptoms.

Can Autism be effectively diagnosed early?

Autism can be reliably diagnosed by age 2, but the average age of diagnosis is around 5 to 7 years. Awareness and early screening can make a huge lifetime difference.

Is there any Autism Screening?

Screening Autism in toddlers is a revised screening questionnaire about your child’s behaviour. This screening test is for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. The results of this test will help you know whether your child needs further screening. Parents can discuss any concerns they may have about their child with the paediatric neurologist.

Bottom Line

Early screening for autism can make a lifetime difference, but it needs your attention. Parenting is a tough job because being a parent, you have to do much more than your requirement – and one prominent job of yours is to ensure that you are helping your child be the best even if they are not as per your expectation. Which means, if you notice any lacunae in their abilities, never ignore, but take action immediately. One of the best ways to ensure it is to approach a specialist doctor for screening your child.

General Developmental Screening

General developmental screening for children should begin during the routine health check-ups by a trained paediatrician. In this regard, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends screening for developmental delays for children at their 9, 18, 24 and 30 month – and, screening for autism at their 18 and 24 months. For children at an increased risk of developing autism, additional screening may be needed. The children who fall under high-risk category include children with behavioural problems, children with a family history of the disorder; children who are born to older parents; children who have certain genetic disorders and also children who are prematurely born or those who were born at very low birth weight.