Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, impaired verbal and non-verbal communication with associated restricted and repetitive behaviour. Autism affects people differently and to various degrees.
At times the signs often develop gradually, while some children with autism reach their developmental milestones at a normal pace and then regress. The symptoms usually begin to manifest around the age of two. The symptoms typically last a lifetime. In 2015, autism was estimated to affect 24.8 million people worldwide.
A clinic-based population study in south-eastern Nigeria revealed that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders was 0.8% of the total population of children that attended the clinic over a one year period.
In the United States, the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births which is near twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125. Boys were 4.5 times more likely to be identified with autism than girls. White children were more likely to be identified with ASD than black or Hispanic children. Autism is also more likely to be found in black children than Hispanic children.
Causes of Autism
The cause of autism is generally unknown. However, there are risk factors, which can be genetic causes or environmental causes.
Genetic factors include;
- Mutations in a gene called UBE3A cause it to become hyperactive, leading to abnormal brain development and autism
- Children who have a sibling with autism are at a higher risk of also having autism (1)
- Autism tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis (2)
Some of the environmental causes include;
- Infections during pregnancy such as rubella
- Cocaine or alcohol use during pregnancy
- Drug use during pregnancy such as thalidomide and valporic acid (3,4)
- Children born to older parents are at greater risk of having autism.(5)
Signs and Symptoms
People with autism usually have problems with social, emotional and communication skills. They usually repeat certain behaviours’ and attitudes and are not willing to change them.
Some of the signs and symptoms of autism include;
- Delayed onset of babbling, unusual gestures, diminished responsiveness, and vocal patterns that are not synchronized with the caregiver.
- Delay or lack of spoken words
- They appear to be unaware when people talk to them
- Avoidance of eye contact
- They want to be alone
- Trouble adapting when routine changes
- They have trouble understanding people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Lack of interest in relating to people or may not have any interest in peer relationship
- They might be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play.
Diagnosis of Autism
The diagnosis of autism requires no test. The diagnosis of autism can be made from history and presentation. It is important you present early to a professional for prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment. The earlier the treatment starts, the better it is for the child.
Treatments for Autism
There is currently no cure for ASD (6) but there have been reported cases of children who recovered. Research reveals that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.(7) Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Early speech or behavioural interventions can help children with autism gain self-care, social, and communication skills
Therefore, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has autism or other developmental problem.
- Ozonoff S, Young GS, Carter A, Messinger D, Yirmiya N, Zwaigenbaum L, Bryson S, Carver LJ, Constantino JN, Dobkins K, Hutman T, Iverson JM, Landa R, Rogers SJ, Sigman M, Stone WL. Recurrence risk for autism spectrum disorders: A Baby Siblings Research Consortium study. Pediatrics. 2011; 128: e488-e495
- DiGuiseppi C, Hepburn S, Davis JM, Fidler DJ, Hartway S, Lee NR, Miller L, Ruttenber M, Robinson C. Screening for autism spectrum disorders in children with Down syndrome. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2010; 31: 181-191.
- Christensen J, Grønborg TK, Sørensen MJ, Schendel D, Parner ET, Pedersen LH, Vestergaard M. Prenatal valproate exposure and risk of autism spectrum disorders and childhood autism. JAMA. 2013; 309(16): 1696-1703.
- Strömland K, Nordin V, Miller M, Akerström B, Gillberg C. Autism in thalidomide embryopathy: a population study. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1994; 36(4): 351-356
- Durkin MS, Maenner MJ, Newschaffer CJ, Lee LC, Cunniff CM, Daniels JL, Kirby RS, Leavitt L, Miller L, Zahorodny W, Schieve LA. Advanced parental age and the risk of autism spectrum disorder. Am J Epidemiol. 2008; 168(11): 1268-1276.
- Handleman, J.S., Harris, S., eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism (2nd ed). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 2000.
- National Research Council. Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.