Autism: Everything You Need to Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children and adults with autism are often subject to stigma and discrimination which usually leads to unmet health-care needs, education, and opportunities to engage and participate in the everyday life of their communities. Studies show that almost two-thirds of children on the autism spectrum aged 6-15 have been bullied at some point in their lives.
World Autism Awareness Day is an internationally recognized day on 2 April every year that aims to increase people’s awareness of individuals living with autism. This day brings autism organizations globally to promote things like acceptance and support for those who live with ASD, as well as research, diagnostics, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are pervasive developmental disorders characterized by social and communicative deficits and restricted interests and behaviors. In different studies, children on the autism spectrum generally show lower results in cognitive and adaptive functions. These differences evolve over time and affect areas of cognitive, social, and behavioral development.
Around 30 percent of children with autism have an intellectual disability, while an estimated one-third of people on the autism spectrum are nonverbal.
Main symptoms of autism spectrum disorders include restricted, repetitive behaviors combined with social communication challenges. ASD symptoms that begin in early childhood tend to continue into adolescence and adulthood.
Autism and Cognitive Development
Around the age of 3, most children master their cognitive skills. Their thinking becomes more complex while language and speech development progress rapidly. Preschoolers are able to understand cause and effect, solve problems, and predict outcomes. In contrast, the same-age children on the autism spectrum usually struggle with focus, attention, transitions, memory, organization, and time management.
Speech and language development in children with ASD are usually delayed. Correspondingly, these children commonly get easily distracted, cannot follow simple instructions, and don’t use eye contact and gestures to share experiences (joint attention).
Control and Regulation in ASD
Three-year old children usually master their emotional regulation – they generally show good emotional control, empathy, and affection towards friends as well as a variety of other emotions. They are more and more independent and curious, able to understand the rules and eager to follow them.
However, it can take much longer for children with ASD to develop these skills. Preschoolers with ASD usually have difficulties to control emotional reactions, especially frustration. They often show extreme behaviors such as aggression, extreme shyness or fear. Additionally, preschool-age children on the autism spectrum rarely respond to people outside the family, don’t show a wide range of emotions, and avoid eye contact. They do not play or enjoy the company of other children.
Most studies point out that genetics plays a significant role in a great number of autism cases:
- Parents who have a child affected by autism, have 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child with ASD
- Children born to older parents are at higher risk of having ASD
- If one of the identical twins has autism, the other will be affected in 36 to 95 percent of cases.
In addition, certain environmental factors may increase autism risk in people who are genetically predisposed. These factors include:
- Pregnancies set apart less than one year
- Pregnancy and birth complications.
Autism in Europe
According to recent research, autism spectrum disorder affects around 1 in 100 people in Europe. While the number of reported cases of autism has increased significantly over the past 30 years, some studies found lower prevalence rates of autism. These prevalence rates differences may be a result of variations of the scientific methods used and the fact that the surveys are mostly based on a limited sample of a country’s population and not on national statistics.
For this reason, Autism Spectrum Disorders in the European Union (ASDEU) issued recommendations to improve autism prevalence research in Europe.
Autism Treatment Options
On regular checkups, your pediatrician or family doctor will perform screenings in the areas such as language, social skills, motor development, and behavior. If they notice anything unusual about your child’s development, you may be referred to a specialist experienced in ASD diagnostics.
For the most accurate diagnosis, your child will undergo an in-depth medical screening that involves prolonged observation of his/her behavior combined with detailed interviews with you and your spouse about your child.
For detailed ASD screening, you may be referred to some of the following specialists:
- Pediatric neurologists
- Child clinical psychiatrists or psychologists
- Developmental pediatricians
- Physical therapists
- Audiologists and/or speech therapists
In addition, as autism is a spectrum, this means that each child will have their own needs, particularly when it comes to education. Professionals like psychologists, teachers, social workers, and hearing and vision specialists will conduct their own assessment to determine what services your child needs at school.
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