Autism is a neuro – developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. . Experts believe that Autism presents itself during the first three years of a person’s life.
In this text Autism and ASD mean the same. ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorders and can sometimes be called Autistic Spectrum Disorders. ASDs are any developmental disabilities that have been caused by a brain abnormality. A person with an ASD usually has difficulty with social and communication skills. Unusual social development becomes apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants show less attention to social stimuli, smile and look at others less often, and respond less to their own name.
Autism (or ASD) is a wide-spectrum disorder. This means that no two people with autism will have precisely the same symptoms. As well as experiencing varying combinations of symptoms, some people will have mild symptoms while others will have severe ones. The symptoms are categorized as follow:
Symptoms under social skills include:
1. They don’t respond to name by 12 months of age
2. They avoid eye-contact
3. They prefer to play alone
4. They don’t share interests with others
5. They have flat or inappropriate facial expressions
6. They don’t understand personal space boundaries
7. They avoids or resists physical contact
8. They are usually not comforted by others during distress
9. They have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about own feelings
Symptoms under communication include;
1. They have delayed speech and language skills
2. They repeat words or phrases over and over again.
3. They sometimes reverse pronouns. For instance the y say ‘you’ instead or ‘I’.
4. Their answers to questions might be unrelated.
5. They do not point at things.
6. They use few gestures.
7. They don’t understand teasing or jokes.
Unusual interest and behaviours
Symptoms under this category;
1. They play with toys the same way all time.
2. They are very organised.
3. They get upset by minor changes
4. They have obsessive interests.
5. They always follow certain routines of patterns.
Other symptoms include;
2. Short attention span
4. Causing self injury
5. Temper tantrums
6. Unusual emotional reactions.
Children with autism develop at different rates in different areas. They sometimes have delays in language, social, and learning skills, while their ability to walk and move around are about the same as other children their age. They may be good at putting puzzles together or solving computer problems, but they might have trouble with social activities such as making friends.
Causes of Autism
There is no identified sole or single cause for autism, but it is commonly accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans confirm differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism. Researchers and scientists are still investigating and trying to find major causes of autism but some researchers believe that autism might be caused by one or more of the following
Genetic problems. Several genes appear to be involved in autism. A number of them may make a child more vulnerable to the disorder. Others affect brain development or the way that brain cells communicate. Still others may determine the severity of symptoms.
Environmental factors: chemical or viruses contribute to the disorder. Complications during pregnancy and air pollutants play a role in triggering autism.
Pharmaceuticals: some babies that have been exposed to certain pharmaceuticals in the womb, including SSRI’s, thalidomide, e.t.c have been found to have a higher risk of autism.
Limited Parental Vitamin Intake: one study found that Women who reported not taking prenatal vitamins before and during a pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with autism.
At the moment there is no cure for autism. But with early intervention and therapy we can lessen the deficit and behavioural challenges associated with autism. Treatment can be tailored toward the child needs. Treatment includes educational intervention and medical management especially during childhood. After childhood, major treatment includes residential care, job training and placement, sexuality and social skills. Young adults with autism can learn a skill and become employable, the truth is that there is potential in every child, we only have to look deep enough to unlock it.
A person with autism feels love, happiness, sorrow and pain just like everyone else. Just because some of them may not express their feelings in the way others do, does not mean that they do not have feelings, yes they do. While researchers are looking for a cure for autism, we should not neglect people with autism but work to accommodate their needs and this will make the world a happier place to live in.
Oluwabusola Akinsola (Overcoming cerebral palsy) representing
Children Development Centre
Surulere, Lagos state