With April 2 being recognized internationally as World Autism Day, it’s time to truly understand and recognize what autism is and work towards increased inclusion across all levels of society.
What it is
Autism is a serious, lifelong developmental disorder described by substantial impairments in social interactions and communication skills. The term autism is also confused with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) including classic autism, Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder may be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but they usually become clearer during early childhood (24 months to 6 years). ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189).
Recent neurobiological data suggests that autism is caused by late disruption of the Central Nervous System (CNS) just prior to birth, perinatally, or postnatally. The limbic system plays a significant role in various aspects of emotion, memory and learning, and motivation. The second major area of abnormality found was in the cerebellum and its many circuits and interconnections.
Studies across the world have estimated an increase between 50 percent to over 2,000 percent in cases of autism. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder and brain-imaging studies have found differences in the development of several regions of the brain. Emerging findings suggest that ASD can result from disruptions in genes that control aspects of brain development or control how brain cells communicate with each other.
Environmental explanations include toxins, chemicals, or other harmful external elements which may trigger autism, either by “turning on” or exacerbating a genetic vulnerability or independently disturbing brain development.
Currently, the best evidence suggests that early, intensive behavioral and educational interventions can improve outcomes for many children with ASD. While there are no medications that target the primary social or repetitive behavior symptoms, there are some that can help with symptoms that often co-occur in ASD, such as hyperactivity or irritability. The primary goal of treatment is to improve the overall ability of the child to function. Treatment strategies are tailored to individual needs and available family resources. However, overall, children with autism respond best to highly structured and specialized treatment; some of which include: behavioral training and management which uses positive reinforcement, self-help, and social skills training to improve behavior and communication. Also, specialized therapies which include speech, occupational, and physical therapy which are vital components of managing autism and should all be included in various aspects of the child’s treatment program.