Thursday 16 July, 2020

5 things you probably didn't know about autism

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neuro-developmental disorder with a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.

There are still a lot of misconceptions about the disorder and it doesn’t help that there aren't many local studies to help us get a better understanding of the disorder.

On autism in children, neuropsychologist Dr. Tim Conway recently said,

"Kids can have autism, but they are not autism. They're kids. They have skills, they have abilities, autism is something that they deal with, it's a medical condition, it's a neuro-developmental disorder, but it doesn't define the child."

While the verdict is still out on specific regional factors and autism, here are at least five things you should know about the disorder.

1. Autism is NOT a mental health disorder 

It’s a neurological disorder marked by abnormalities in the brain. Most people believe those who have autism lack empathy and cannot develop meaningful relationships, however, they can feel as much, if not more than their peers according to PBS.


2. Diagnosis: The earlier, the better

U.S. research has shown that babies with the condition begin demonstrating diminished eye contact from as early as two months. Parents should pay attention if they notice light or sound sensitivity or language delays. "Most autism specialists are hesitant to make a diagnosis earlier than 18 months, but if you do see warning signs—no big smiles by 6 months, no babbling or pointing by 12 months, no words by 16 months," according to Lisa Shulman, MD, director of Rehabilitation, Evaluation and Learning for Autistic Infants and Toddlers at the Kennedy Center at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York.

Doctors typically evaluate a child’s behaviour through a developmental screening and then a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, which can include hearing, vision, and neurological tests. The doctor may also recommend a follow-up visit to a specialist, such as a developmental paediatrician.


3. Autism symptoms vary 

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can vary widely depending on the individual. Symptoms of the disorder are mild for some and more pronounced in others, but symptoms of autism spectrum disorder generally tend to involve communication skills and social behaviours, such as being extremely introverted, not wanting to play with other children, or not making eye contact.

They may repeat certain behaviours over and over again, or they may become obsessed with a particular toy. Lack of verbal skills is one of the most well-known symptoms. Other red flags for parents: if a child is very sensitive to noise, throws intense tantrums, doesn’t respond spoken to, doesn’t point at interesting objects, or doesn’t play “pretend” games by 18 months. 


4. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed

Boys are almost five times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder than girls. Studies have shown that ASD tends to be under-diagnosed in girls mainly because of how social constructs dictate what expected from boys versus girls. If a girl is quiet, it's assumed that she's just shy and prefers to play by herself. Boys are stereotypically expected to be more outgoing, run around and roughhouse with his friends, and when that stops, it's more noticeable and tends to get looked into more. 


5. It's in the genes 

At least 50% of diagnosed autism cases can be traced back to gene-disabling mutations in one of about 500 genes found in the child—but not in his or her parent, according to a recent study.

About 200 of these genes are known and appear to have a role in early brain development. While this study shows the surprising role genetics play in autism, some research also shows lifestyle factors may have an impact. Children born to women who were obese, had high blood pressure or had diabetes had a 60% higher risk of developing autism.


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