loading

       Article medically reviewed by Cosimo Simeone — Written by Rohini Prasannan 

Introduction:

CDC has reported a 3x increase in Autism prevalence since 2000, affecting 1 in 36 children. Boys of 8 years have higher prevalence than girls. In addition, intellectual disability is present in around 1/3 of autistic children.

However autism is not only a children matter. In fact is also common in adults. Recent research have shown that 5.4 million adults in the United States have autism. Progression in diagnostic methods and increased awareness may lead to this increased prevalence. Again, genetic, and ambiental factors may also be contributing to the same. 

Autism is a disability of the neurological system, which affects the way of communication and social interaction, as well as the presence of repetitive and restrictive behaviors. Even though there is no permanent “cure” for autism, early diagnosis and remedial services can help in improving the quality of life of autistic children. 

Symptoms

Some children show signs of autism in early infancy like reduced eye contact and lack of response to their name. However, other children show normal development until the initial few months or years of birth. Suddenly become aggressive and lose language skills already acquired. These signs typically become visible around the age of 2.

Each child with autism has a unique behavioral pattern and level of severity. Some children with autism spectrum disorder face challenges in learning and display indications of below-average intelligence. Others have normal to high intelligence but struggle with communication, application of knowledge in daily life, and adapting to social scenarios. 

Assessing the severity of autism spectrum disorder poses challenges due to the unique symptom combinations in each child. Generally, professionals evaluate severity by considering the level of impairment and its impact on the child’s functioning (1).

It is important to note that these signs can vary from person to person, and there is a wide range of severity for each symptom. Universal symptoms of autism are the below:

  • Social and communication deficit
  • Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory inputs
  • Fixated interest on activity or object with abnormal intensity
  • Performs repetitive behaviors, interests, or movements
  • Difficulty in building relationships, maintenance, and understanding
  • Attachment to routines and sameness, and becomes disturbed at the slightest change

Causes

Children of all ages, race, and ethnicity are affected by autism. However, certain risk factors increase a child’s likelihood of developing autism (2).

They include:

  • Comorbidity: Children who already have certain diseases are at a higher risk of developing autism compared to other children. Examples of these diseases include Rett syndrome, which mainly affects girls and is characterized by a slowdown in head growth, intellectual disability, and the loss of hand skills, and Fragile X syndrome, an inherited disorder that causes intellectual problems.
  • Genetic: Researchers have discovered that among identical twins, there is an 80% heritability rate. Around 25% of cases are attributed to structural variations in chromosomes or mutations. Language delay is linked to the dysregulation of specific genes.
  • Ambiental: Autism can be caused by prenatal exposure to teratogens, polluted air, smoking, alcohol consumption, or prenatal stress. Additionally, congenital rubella syndrome is a recognized environmental cause of autism.
  • Parental age: There is a potential link between advanced parental age and the development of autism in their child. However, additional research is required to substantiate the evidence.
  • Maternal physical health: Maternal bleeding during pregnancy, the presence of metabolic syndrome such as gestational diabetes or obesity (which can result in oxygen deficiency to the fetus and hinder brain development), or maternal viral infection during the first or second trimester are known to elevate the risk of autism.
  • Maternal mental: There is a correlation between the psychiatric history of parents and the probability of their child developing mental disorders, including autism. Furthermore, mothers diagnosed with mental illness or those who experience substantial stress between the 21st and 32nd weeks of gestation may have enduring impacts on fetal development and brain formation.

Diagnosis:

A diagnosis of autism is made through an evaluation of a person’s behavior and development in relation to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Early diagnosis is important as it can allow for early intervention and support for individuals and their families.

One of the most important aspects of diagnosing autism is to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Pediatricians, teachers, and other professionals who work with children are in a unique position to spot signs of autism early on. 

Medical conditions may cause comparable symptoms, thus professional diagnosis is crucial. A thorough assessment by a qualified healthcare provider is the most effective approach to identifying autism. A qualified medical expert, like a pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist, is the optimal person to diagnose autism. 

The assessment typically entails a physical examination, interviews with family and caregivers, and observations of the child’s behavior. Moreover, diverse psychological tests and assessments like brain imaging might aid in determining the existence and extent of autism.

The Autism Spectrum Test (AST)

The AST is the key test for diagnosing Autism. It uses questions to evaluate behaviors and abilities associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The test gauges how autism spectrum disorder impacts an individual’s life. It’s crucial to note that the results don’t offer a conclusive diagnosis. Instead, they guide healthcare professionals to better aid those on the autism spectrum.

The AST aids in comprehending the impact of autism on individuals’ lives and enables them to improve its management. By interpreting their test results, individuals can enhance self-awareness of their abilities and behaviors. This also help to undertake essential measures to manage their autism spectrum disorder.

Furthermore ATS identifies autism in kids by evaluating their abilities in communication, behavior, and social skills. It asks about interaction, language, and instruction following. Results help provide suitable interventions.

Increase in Autism Prevalence: Is it real or due to improved diagnosis?

Many experts question whether the rise in autism prevalence is due to a true increase in the number of individuals with autism or if it’s due to improved diagnosis and awareness. This increase it seems largely driven by advanced diagnostic capabilities and greater awareness of the signs and symptoms autism. In the past, many people were not aware of the signs and symptoms of autism. In fact they did not have the resources to diagnose it. Factors that have contributed to improved clinical diagnosis are:

  • Broadened diagnostic criteria
  • Improved efficiency in case identification
  • Changes in Autism Diagnostic Practices
  • Diagnostic substitution (may occur when a child who would have previously been diagnosed with another condition, such as intellectual disability, is now diagnosed with autism due to a shift in diagnostic criteria and increased awareness of the disorder)

Genetics may also play a role in the increase of autism cases. In the last 40 years, research has shown that autism is highly heritable and has multiple genetic factors. Both common and rare genetic variations increase the risk of developing autism. Scientists hope to use these findings to better understand the biology of the condition (3). 

Treatments

Behavioral intervention is the primary method of managing autism. It is classified as a comprehensive treatment model, which involves long-term, multi-disciplinary strategies targeting classical autism symptoms. Focused intervention, on the other hand, concentrates on a particular skill or area of improvement until the child masters it. Early implementation of behavioral interventions is crucial for optimizing the developmental and learning skills of young children.

Children with autism require psychotropic medications to improve their daily functioning. However, they may be more sensitive to medication effects and experience more adverse effects than neurotypical children. Prescribers should commence treatment at lower doses and adjust slowly.

Sulforaphane, present in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. It’s a dietary supplement with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mitochondrial protective properties. It has been found to be effective in treating neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders. Omega 3 fatty acid and Vitamin D are other agents with antioxidant properties that have proven benefits in reducing irritability related to autism (4).

Could physical therapy be beneficial for people affected by autism?

Physical therapy can be incredibly beneficial for those living with autism. Physical therapy can help improve physical coordination, strength, and balance. It can also help with sensory integration, helping the individual to better regulate their reactions to sensory inputs.

Moreover, physical therapy can also provide a safe and comfortable environment for autistic individuals to explore and learn, which can help to increase their confidence. Finally, through physical therapy, those on the autism spectrum can learn to better control their bodies and movements, which can help with everyday tasks such as dressing, eating, and walking.

Furthermore it can provide a great opportunity for those living with autism to learn and improve their quality of life. For a physical therapy you can book an appointment with us here https://mundushealth.com/make-appointments/.

In addition, Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization, provides a wealth of information and resources to help parents and caregivers understand autism and support their loved ones better. Autism Speaks website is a treasure trove of information, with guides and resources covering a wide range of topics related to autism. The site offers comprehensive guides to help parents and caregivers understand the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of autism (https://www.autismspeaks.org/).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the prevalence of autism has significantly increased in the current decade. This increase can be attributed to several factors, including enhanced diagnostic methods, heightened awareness, and genetics. The chances of having a child with autism are higher if a family member already has the condition. Also, researchers have identified several genes that may contribute to the development of autism. Furthermore, autism is a clinically diverse disorder, in fact the symptoms and severity of autism can vary widely.

Recent data from the US reveals that the number of autistic children awaiting school entry is nearly equal to the number already enrolled. This emphasizes the need for accurate demographic surveys to obtain precise counts of the number of children with autism. Accurate data on the prevalence of autism is essential for developing effective policies and programs to support people with autism and their families. Accurate diagnosis of autism is essential to ensure appropriate treatment and support. 

References

1. Hodges, H., Fealko, C., & Soares, N. (2020). Autism spectrum disorder: Definition, epidemiology, causes, and clinical evaluation. Translational Pediatrics, 9(S1), S55–S65. 

2.  Styles, M., Alsharshani, D., Samara, M., Alsharshani, M., Khattab, A., Qoronfleh, M. W., & Al-Dewik, N. (2020). Risk factors, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of autism. Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark, 25(9), Doi: https://doi.org/10.2741/4873.

3. Thapar, A., & Rutter, M. (2021). Genetic Advances in Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 51(12), 4321–4332. 4.  Aishworiya, R., Valica, T., Hagerman, R., & Restrepo, B. (2022). An Update on Psychopharmacological Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neurotherapeutics, 19(1), 248–262.

4.  Aishworiya, R., Valica, T., Hagerman, R., & Restrepo, B. (2022). An Update on Psychopharmacological Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neurotherapeutics, 19(1), 248–262.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *