Children and adults with autism often face stigma and discrimination, which typically results in unmet health care and educational needs, as well as missed opportunities to participate in the daily lives of their communities. Studies show that nearly two-thirds of children aged 6 to 15 with autism spectrum disorder have been bullied at some point in their lives.
World Autism Awareness Day is held every year on April 2. It is an internationally recognized day, designed to increase public awareness of the realities faced by people with autism, and the families who live with them. This day brings together global autism organizations to promote acceptance and support for people with autism spectrum disorder. This day is also an opportunity to highlight the importance of research, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are pervasive developmental disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. According to various studies, children with autism generally have lower cognitive and adaptive outcomes. These differences evolve over time, affecting the areas of cognitive, social and behavioral development.
About 30% of children with autism have an intellectual disability, and about one-third of people with autism are mute.
The symptoms of autism
The main symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders include restricted and repetitive behaviors, associated with impairments in communication and social interactions. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorders that begin in early childhood tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood.
Autism and cognitive development
By age 3, most children have mastered their cognitive skills. Their thinking becomes more complex, while language and speech development progresses rapidly. Preschoolers are able to understand cause and effect, solve problems, and explain and predict certain actions related to a particular mental state, such as a desire or intention. In contrast, children of the same age with autism generally have problems with concentration, attention, transition, memory, organization and time management.
Speech and language development in children with autism spectrum disorder is generally delayed. As a result, these children are usually easily distracted, cannot follow simple instructions, and do not use eye contact and gestures to share their experiences (joint attention).
Control and emotional regulation
Three-year-olds are generally in control of their emotional regulation. Thus, they generally establish good emotional control, show empathy, demonstrate affection towards their friends, and express many other emotions as well. These children are increasingly independent and curious, able to understand the rules and willing to follow them.
In contrast, children with autism will need more time to develop these skills. Preschoolers with autism typically have difficulty controlling their emotional responses, especially frustration. They often exhibit extreme behaviors such as aggression, extreme shyness or fear. Furthermore, preschoolers with autism rarely respond to non-family members and their range of emotions is not very broad. Finally, they avoid eye contact, do not play with other children, and do not enjoy their company.
The causes of autism
Most studies indicate that genetics plays a major role in a large number of autism cases:
– Parents who have one child with autism have a 2-18% chance of having a second child with an autism spectrum disorder;
– Children born to older parents are at greater risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder;
– If one of the identical twins has autism, the other will also have it in 36 to 95% of cases.
In addition, certain environmental factors may increase the risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder in genetically susceptible individuals. These factors include:
– pregnancies within one year of each other;
– complications related to pregnancy and birth.
Autism in Europe
According to recent research, autism spectrum disorders affect about 1 in 100 people in Europe. While the number of reported cases of autism has increased significantly over the past 30 years, some studies have found lower prevalence rates of autism. These differences in prevalence rates may be the result of variations in the scientific methods used, and may also be due to the fact that the surveys are based primarily on a limited sample of a country’s population, rather than on national statistics.
For this reason, recommendations have been issued by the Autism Spectrum Disorders in the European Union (ASDEU) program to improve research on the prevalence of autism in Europe.
Treatment options for autism
At regular checkups, your pediatrician or family doctor will screen for areas such as speech, social skills, motor development and behavior. If the doctor detects something unusual in your child’s development, he or she will likely refer you to a specialist experienced in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders.
For the most accurate diagnosis possible, your child will undergo a thorough medical screening, which will involve prolonged observation of his/her behavior. At the same time, in-depth discussions will be held with you and your spouse about your child.
For a detailed screening for autism spectrum disorders, you may be referred to one of the following specialists:
- A child psychiatrist or clinical child psychologist
- A developmental pediatrician
- An audiologist and/or a speech therapist
Also, because autism is on a spectrum, this means that each child will have his or her own unique needs, especially when it comes to education. Professionals such as 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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