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Autism Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Autism in children

Autism takes different forms with their symptoms often overlapping one another. The autism spectrum disorder (ASD) consists of different autism disorders that include Asperger's syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett Syndrome. The classic autism affects the child's different areas of development, including verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, behavior and interests. Autism usually manifest as a delayed developmental milestone from birth while others may appear to be normal at their young age and they begin to show the lack of social interest to interact with others with the loss of language skills. Later in the child's life, autism begins to manifest when the child begins to show preoccupation and unusual behavior and thoughts.

Prevalence of autism

Autism is highly prevalent among the US population with about one out of 68 children having the disorder. The condition commonly affects boys than girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the disorder affects all races, ethnic and socioeconomic group. Loss of language and impairment in communication ability is the major impairment of autism. The dominant symptoms however are the child's being preoccupied with certain things and becoming oblivious to his surroundings.

Understanding symptoms of different types of autism

Autism is usually difficult to recognize, especially during the infantile stage. Autism begins to occur during infancy and early childhood and parents only begin to notice the unusual behavior of their child, especially involving their inability to socially interact with others. Most of the symptoms of the ASD overlap with each other, but there are characteristic symptoms that can identify a specific ASD.

1.       Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is the mildest form of ASD. Boys have threefold risks for developing the disorder than girls. The prevailing characteristic of Asperger's syndrome in children is the loss of social interaction and interest. The child will grow as a highly functional individual, but with a higher risk for anxiety and depression. Common symptoms of Asperger's syndrome include:

  • The child lacks empathy
  • The loss of social skills
  • Do not accommodate changes in routine
  • Usually engages in a one sided conversation. The child would talk about his favorite subject but loses interest in listening to others.
  • Do not maintain an eye contact
  • Manifests delayed motor development

2.       Rett Syndrome

This type of autism affects girls more than boys and usually begin to manifest at the age of six to 18 months. The cause for Rett syndrome is genetic mutation than being a hereditary disorder. Affected children usually have a small head size owing to the delayed brain growth and development. Delayed growth in the other parts of the body begins to become prominent as the child begins to grow. Common symptoms include:

  • Abnormal hand movements
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Loss of social skills and language ability
  • Irritability
  • Scoliosis or abnormal curvature of the spine
  • Periodic muscle spasm or epilepsy
  • Constipation
  • Unusual eye movement

3.       Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Also known as Heller's Syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder is the least common but the most severe form of autism. The child normally grows until the age of two or four where he begins to lose multiple functions in various areas of their development.

  • Social skills are lost
  • A seizure is common
  • Severe impairment with poor recovery chances
  • Long term auditory unresponsiveness
  • Abnormal language and communication skills
  • Hyperplexia

4.       Pervasive Developmental Disorder

The symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder in children often vary and each child may present their own areas of disability. Among the common symptoms include the following:

  • Delayed age onset of disability
  • Repetitive behavior is less than shown in Asperger's syndrome
  • Impaired social skills and interaction ability
  • Confused about their environment
  • Shows lack of interest about others

Diagnosing Autism

The detection of autism is always dependent upon parents who have the better opportunity to observe their child's growth, development and behavior. Autism is usually diagnosed when parents take their child to a health professional to perform a clinical test after observing unusual behavior from their children. Early diagnosis of autism is empirical in order to provide the parents proper educational intervention to help them understand the unique needs of their child with autism. This also enables medical professionals to diagnose other existing medical conditions that may be present.

A single examination of the child with autism is not enough in making an accurate diagnosis. Doctors usually include on parent's testimonials regarding the child's development history. Taking into account the developmental patterns of the child is important in helping diagnose autism. The symptoms of the child are also important in helping diagnose the specific type of autism present. The diagnostic criteria used for autism is the DSM V. Health practitioners also have a checklist when carrying out a series of interview with the child and his parents.

Treatment for autism

Unfortunately, autism is incurable. Common treatments for autism are directed towards providing education and reducing the challenge of the disorder with the help of therapies that help children cope with their condition, reduce the disruptive behavior associated with autism and to prevent complications and delay disabilities. The treatment for autism is long term and a combination of therapies are preferred to be more effective.

  • Behavioral modification

Children with autism often manifest aggressive behavior. Behavioral therapy helps in controlling repetitive and inappropriate behavior in children by teaching them coping skills about their environment. The theory of applied behavioral analysis is introduced in order to reward good behavior and eliminate the inappropriate ones. The treatment involves the child's caregiver in order to promote efficient care for the child at home.

Play therapy is also used to modify behavioral changes and strengthen the child's emotional skills for socialization. It also enhances their learning capabilities and develops a child-adult interaction. Story telling is also provided to help the child develop their social interaction skills. Stories are used to help the child acknowledge feelings and ideas, making them more responsive to their environment and particular situations.

  • Dietary intervention

While diet has no direct association with autism, doctors believe that unbroken proteins from foods can initially affect the brain function and may stimulate irritable behavior from an autistic child. Dietary supplements high in vitamin B and magnesium can help improve the brain function that helps in improving the child's attention span and learning process. However, parents should always consult their doctor before giving any supplements to their child to ensure that this option is safe under their child's condition.

  • Communication therapy

Most children with autism have poor communication and language skills, making communication therapy as the most important part of the treatment spectrum given to autism. Speech therapy is given with the aim of helping the child develop the ability to communicate verbally. Successful communication therapy is able to assist children learn to develop their communication skills, reducing their frustration of not being able to express their feelings and ideas before.

  • Other forms of treatment

There are other forms of treatments given to autistic children and their indication depends upon the severity of the symptoms and needs of the child and his family. Parent-mediated therapy is provided to help parents focus on learning how to address the unique needs of their child and develop better coping skills. Pre-school based therapy, social skills learning and development intervention and physical therapy are also prescribed.