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What Causes Autism In Children

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How Autism Can Impact A Childs Life

What Causes Autism in Children

Many aspects of ASD can impact a childs life. These impacts may carry into teen years and adulthood. Problems with motor skills can mean a child is seen as clumsy. Rigid movements or differences with gait can also have lasting physical effects. Social skills and interaction are key in childrens development. Difficulty in these areas can make it hard to connect with others.

Children with autism may have problems meeting people or making friends. This can affect mental health. Lack of awareness and positive support can cause problems for these children. Even autistic children with high intelligence may find school difficult for these reasons.

Social Communication And Interaction Skills

Social communication and interaction skills can be challenging for people with ASD.

Examples of social communication and social interaction characteristics related to ASD can include:

  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact
  • Does not respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no gestures by 12 months of age
  • Does not share interests with others
  • Does not point or look at what you point to by 18 months of age
  • Does not notice when others are hurt or sad by 24 months of age
  • Does not pretend in play
  • Shows little interest in peers
  • Has trouble understanding other peoples feelings or talking about own feelings at 36 months of age or older
  • Does not play games with turn taking by 60 months of age

Large Head Size Is A Red Flag

Recent findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that the brains of children with autism develop differently from an early age. Researchers discovered that most infants who were later diagnosed with autism had small head circumferences at birth but had heads and brains much larger than normal by 6 to 14 months. “Some of them went all the way up to the 90th percentile in just a few months,” says study coauthor Natacha Akshoomoff, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Those who ended up with the most severe form of autism were found to have the most dramatic acceleration of brain growth during infancy.

Pediatricians don’t always measure head circumference at well-baby visits, so it’s wise to request it. However, don’t panic if your baby’s head size is above the norm. Some babies just have big heads. “Rapid head growth is not a way to diagnose autism,” Dr. Akshoomoff points out, “but it means that a child should be watched closely to be sure that she meets speech and behavioral milestones.”

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Theories Of Causes Lead To Interventions

Over the years there have been many theories about the causes of autism. In the 1950s and 60s, it was believed that autism was caused by cold parenting. This led to the promotion of Holding Therapy, an approach where the mother holds their child for a prolonged time and forces eye-contact in order to remediate a presumed attachment disorder. Whilst children on the receiving end have reported terrible suffering as a result, the professionals involved overlooked the fact that the parents also had children who did not have autism.

Although this theory and intervention have long been debunked, Research Autism currently lists 123 different interventions for autism and nearly all of them are the result of a theory about a possible cause.

Over the years many theories have come and gone. One notable exception is EIBI . This approach applies ABA techniques to help children with autism. This treatment has the highest evidence base and is one of the few that was not developed from a theory of a cause. Find out more about ABA and autism.

In The 2010s And Through Today

VaCcInEs CaUsE aUtIsM : facepalm

A new version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published in 2013. This is the manual doctors use today.

Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a diagnosis in the DSM-5. Instead, the manual provides just one diagnosis for all people with autism symptoms: autism spectrum disorder .

People with ASD have problems with social communication. They may resist changes in routine and be hypersensitive to noise, smell, touch, and other types of sensory experiences. These problems can range from mild to extreme.

People with mild symptoms and those with severe speech delays or sensory issues are all diagnosed with ASD.

The DSM-5 does identify the “level of support” a person with autism might need. These functional levels range from 1 to 3 based on the severity of one’s autism, with 1 describing people who need the least support because their symptoms are mild.

However, few people outside of the medical community refer to someone as having level 1 autism. Often, the terms Asperger’s syndrome or mild autism are still used.

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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Autism

The onset of autism is usually apparent prior to or around three years of age.

However, for children who might have more subtle difficulties or are very able, the symptoms may be recognised only when they are older.

This is because some children are very well supported in their home and nurseries and their difficulties are not so apparent until they are expected to be more independent.

There are a range of early signs that parents tend to report. These include a childs avoidance of eye contact, a childs different way of communication, for example the child may not be sharing their interest or curiosity with others, although they may be able to request what they want.

Young children with autism spectrum may also have reduced non-verbal communication, and may not point or gesture. Some parents notice that their childs play may be different to that of their peers, for example lacking in creativity and imagination.

Many children with suspected autism may have difficulty in joining with other children and may prefer to play alone or with adults. Children with autism have delayed development of language, which tends to be one of the most frequent causes for concern.

The world can be confusing for children with autism. They often have trouble understanding the subtleties of how to read and relate to other people. This might mean they may not pick up social cues, or may behave in ways that are considered to be socially inappropriate.

How Is Asd Diagnosed

ASD symptoms can vary greatly from person to person depending on the severity of the disorder. Symptoms may even go unrecognized for young children who have mild ASD or less debilitating handicaps.

Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed by clinicians based on symptoms, signs, and testing according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V, a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association used to diagnose mental disorders. Children should be screened for developmental delays during periodic checkups and specifically for autism at 18- and 24-month well-child visits.

Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:

  • no babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by age 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • repetitive or unusual use of language
  • abnormally intense or focused interest
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

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What If My Friend Has Autism Spectrum Disorder

Some people with ASD do not feel that they have a disorder and don’t want to change. They’re proud of who they are and they want to be accepted, even though they may have different strengths and weaknesses than most other people.

All people deserve respect. But kids with ASD may be teased, bullied, or left out because they’re different. Bullying and teasing are never the right way to treat other people, but it may be hard to be a friend with someone who has ASD.

Kids with ASD often don’t understand playful jokes. You may need to be very clear when you communicate with someone who has ASD.

Try to be patient and kind. Remember how hard it might be for the person with ASD to understand how to be a friend. Stand up for classmates who are bullied. Tell adults, so they can help protect kids who are bullied.

How Is Autism Treated

Understanding Autism Part 1: What Causes Autism?

Thereâs no cure for autism. But early treatment can make a big difference in development for a child with autism. If you think your child shows symptoms of ASD, tell your doctor as soon as possible.

What works for one person might not work for another. Your doctor should tailor treatment for you or your child. The two main types of treatments are:

  • Behavioral and communication therapy to help with structure and organization. Applied behavior analysis is one of these treatments it promotes positive behavior and discourages negative behavior. Occupational therapy can help with life skills like dressing, eating, and relating to people. Sensory integration therapy might help someone who has problems with being touched or with sights or sounds. Speech therapy improves communication skills.
  • Medications to help with symptoms of ASD, like attention problems, hyperactivity, or anxiety.

Complementary treatments may help boost learning and communication skills in some people with autism. Complementary therapies include music, art, or animal therapy, like horseback riding and even swimming with dolphins.

Read Also: What Is The Life Expectancy Of People With Autism

Terminology And Distinction From Schizophrenia

As late as the mid-1970s there was little evidence of a genetic role in autism while in 2007 it was believed to be one of the most heritable psychiatric conditions. Although the rise of parent organizations and the destigmatization of childhood ASD have affected how ASD is viewed, parents continue to feel social stigma in situations where their child’s autistic behavior is perceived negatively, and many primary care physicians and medical specialists express some beliefs consistent with outdated autism research.

It took until 1980 for the DSM-III to differentiate autism from childhood schizophrenia. In 1987, the DSM-III-R provided a checklist for diagnosing autism. In May 2013, the DSM-5 was released, updating the classification for pervasive developmental disorders. The grouping of disorders, including PDD-NOS, autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, and CDD, has been removed and replaced with the general term of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The two categories that exist are impaired social communication and/or interaction, and restricted and/or repetitive behaviors.

The Internet has helped autistic individuals bypass nonverbal cues and emotional sharing that they find difficult to deal with, and has given them a way to form online communities and work remotely.Societal and cultural aspects of autism have developed: some in the community seek a cure, while others believe that autism is simply another way of being.

Clinical Implications And Future Perspectives

When autism was first described, it was hypothesized to be an environmentally caused disease. Decades of research have since revealed that autism is a highly heterogeneous and extremely complex genetic condition. Even though great progress had been made in identifying hundreds of risk genes, very little is known about the different types of modifiers that may exacerbate or ameliorate disease severity. Such modifiers could include epigenetics, sex-linked modifiers, CNVs, double-hit mutations, or environmental factors .

Figure 1. Genetic modifiers in autism spectrum disorder. Autism is estimated to be 4080% heritable. However, both genetic and non-genetic factors modulate the penetrance of risk genes, resulting in a highly heterogeneous disease phenotype for similar pathogenic variants. Examples of genetic modulators include CNV, epigenetics, and double-hit mutations. Examples of non-genetic modifiers include environmental exposures and sex-linked modifiers.

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What Is The Difference Between Autism And Adhd

Autism and ADHD are sometimes confused with one another.

Children with an ADHD diagnosis consistently have issues with fidgeting, concentrating, and maintaining eye contact with others. These symptoms are also seen in some autistic people.

Despite some similarities, ADHD is not considered a spectrum disorder. One major difference between the two is that people with ADHD do not tend to lack socio-communicative skills.

If you think your child may be hyperactive, talk with their doctor about possible ADHD testing. Getting a clear diagnosis is essential to ensure that your child is receiving the right support.

Restricted Or Repetitive Behaviors Or Interests

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People with ASD have behaviors or interests that can seem unusual. These behaviors or interests set ASD apart from conditions defined by only problems with social communication and interaction.

Examples of restricted or repetitive interests and behaviors related to ASD can include:

  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Is focused on parts of objects
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

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Be Careful About Changing Your Childs Diet

Talk to your doctor before trying something different, like a special diet. Thereâs no hard evidence that special diets help children with ASD. Autism is a complex brain disorder. While it may seem that cutting out certain foods could relieve your childâs symptoms, it might actually cause more harm.

For example, children with autism often have thinner bones. Dairy products have nutrients that can make their bones stronger. Studies on a protein in milk products called casein have found that many children performed the same whether or not they ate foods with this protein. Their autism symptoms didnât change in any remarkable way.

Some evidence shows that people with autism may have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals. This does not cause autism spectrum disorder. But supplements may be suggested to improve nutrition. Vitamin B and magnesium are two of the supplements most often used for people with autism. But people can overdose on these vitamins, so megavitamins should be avoided.

However, some diet changes may help with certain symptoms of autism. Food allergies, for example, may make behavior problems worse. Removing the allergen from the diet may improve behavior issues.

Some children with autism have digestive problems like constipation, belly pain, or nausea and vomiting. Your doctor can suggest a diet that wonât make them worse.

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What Are The Signs Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Signs of ASD range from mild to severely disabling, and every person is different. The following signs are considered to be red flags that indicate your young child may be at risk for autism. If your child shows any of the following signs, please get in touch with your childs healthcare provider to discuss a referral for an autism evaluation.

The signs include the following:

  • Your child doesnt respond to their name being called at all or responds inconsistently.
  • Your child doesnt smile widely or make warm, joyful expressions by the age of 6 months.
  • Your child doesnt engage in smiling, making sounds and making faces with you or other people by the age of 9 months.
  • Your child doesnt babble by 12 months.
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as showing, pointing, reaching or waving by 12 months.
  • No words by 16 months.
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months.
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age.

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How Autism Is Diagnosed In Children

There is no specific medical test used to diagnose ASD in children. However, specific diagnostic tools can be used to detect autism in children from as young as age two.

Making an early diagnosis of ASD can facilitate earlier treatment, which helps children with this condition cope better.

Some signs a doctor will look out for in children when trying to determine if they have ASD include:

  • Unable to make eye contact
  • No spoken language or compensation by 16 months
  • Speaking very little or speaking in an unusual voice
  • Inability to communicate with their hands by 1 year old
  • Loss of social or language skills
  • Exhibiting repetitive behavior

Signs Of Nonverbal Communication Difficulties

What Causes Autism?
  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Uses facial expressions that dont match what they are saying
  • Doesnt pick up on other peoples facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures.
  • Makes very few gestures . May come across as cold or robot-like.
  • Reacts unusually to sights, smells, textures, and sounds. May be especially sensitive to loud noises. Can also be unresponsive to people entering/leaving, as well as efforts by others to attract the childs attention.
  • Atypical posture, clumsiness, or eccentric ways of moving .

Children with autism spectrum disorder have trouble picking up on subtle nonverbal cues and using body language. This makes the give-and-take of social interaction very difficult.

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New Research On Autism And Our Environment

Sex hormones, medications, certain metals such as lead, pesticides, and chemicals used to make plastic hard or pliable have long been suspected of having a role in autism. They have not been proven to cause autism, but these are known to trigger or worsen other health problems, including some that affect the brain. Many studies have shown that chemical exposures during development in the womb can have much more serious health effects than the same exposures would in adults.

A large 2014 study investigated the connection between autism and genital malformations using health insurance claims from almost a third of the U.S. population. Like autism, genital malformations are increasing: cases of undescended testicle increased 200% between 1970 and 1993, and the percentage of boys born with a deformity of the penis known as hypospadia doubled. Many studies have shown that these malformations are more common among children whose mothers have high levels of chemicals that affect the hormones in their bodies, such as phthalates which are found in cleaning products, medicines, and personal care products like shampoos and creams The link between these chemicals and genital malformations has surfaced in other studies, particularly those involving women in professions that require working daily with these chemicals.

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