Autism spectrum disorders or (ASD) are a cluster of neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterised by social/communication impairment and the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. ASD include autism, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome.
What are the symptoms of ASD ?
Symptoms in ASD are often present before three years of age. Earlier identification leads to better outcomes. Here are some signs of ASD in children.
- In infants, children may have a delay in their social and communication milestones. There may be problems in facial expression, body language, recognition of parents and eye contact may be absent. Children with ASD may not be able to express their needs.
- In slightly older children. A lack of social play between peers may be apparent. The lack of or overindulgence in imaginative play may be significant. Repetitive stereotypical behaviours such as hand flapping may become apparent.
- Children with ASD may show a marked increase or decrease in sensitivity to sound, taste, lights, touch.
- ASD makes it difficult for children to understand and respond to the emotions of others. They may have difficulty expressing themselves and/or follow rules of conversation.
What causes ASD ?
There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Children born to older parents are at higher risk of developing ASD. Several genetic disorders may present as ASD. Exposure to toxins, teratogenic medicines or substances of abuse in the womb or in early childhood. Vaccines do not cause ASD.
How is ASD diagnosed ?
Before a diagnosis of ASD is made, impairment of hearing and vision will have to be ruled out. Developmental screening can catch ASD early. Specific behavioural questionnaires and psychological assessments can confirm a diagnosis of ASD. Genetic testing may be done to rule out common genetic causes.
How is ASD treated ?
Management depends on the severity of ASD, the severity is classified based on the amount of support the child requires. Behavioural management, parental management techniques, assisted education and social skills training may help in managing the problems that arise from ASD. A small proportion of children may require medication to address comorbid conditions or complications. There is no cure for ASD, the most effective treatments involve behavioural strategies. The earlier the interventions are initiated, better the outcome.
Take a quick free, ASD screening test. The Childhood Autism Spectrum Test or CAST (formerly the “Childhood Asperger’s Syndrome Test”) is a 39-item, yes or no evaluation aimed at parents.