#HCAwarnessWeek: Autism Spectrum Disorder: What You Need to Know

April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s time to become more informed about what exactly autism is and what it means for those who are affected. However, despite there being a general feeling of people thinking they know what autism is, many are actually ill-informed.

Autism spectrum disorder affects each person differently. The spectrum is very broad and there are a lot of ways that people on the spectrum are affected by autism and its accompanying conditions and symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms and Conditions?

People on the autism spectrum cope with challenges with their social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as repetitive behavior. There are several other symptoms of autism that doctors use to diagnose patients. The criteria are that these symptoms begin in early childhood, persist and interfere with daily living.  

Symptoms of being on the autism spectrum usually appear around age three. This is when most parents and doctors will begin testing for autism. Usually, problems with basic motor skills communication persist and begin to show at this young of an age.

Autism makes it difficult for those on the spectrum to have certain social interactions. They will often struggle with carrying a conversation. People on the autism spectrum can also struggle with understanding the feelings of others or expressing their own. This can make it hard for them to understand body language of those around them or pick up on the emotion in someone’s voice when speaking to them.

Associated Conditions

There are also several related medical conditions that may go with autism spectrum disorder. These include epilepsy, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and gastrointestinal disorders.

What Causes Autism?

There is no defined cause of autism, despite all of the information we do have on the disorder. Specialists believe that autism risks come from a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. However, keep in mind that risk does not equal a cause, and these simply increase the chances of having autism, but may not actually cause it.

As far as genetic factors are concerned, research says that autism often runs in families. Other factors have been a change in the egg, embryo or sperm.

Environmental factors can also be a risk for people who are genetically predisposed to autism. Increased environmental factor risks include: advanced parent’s age, pregnancies less than a year apart and pregnancy/birth complications. Prenatal vitamins have proven to be a decreased risk factor for those genetically predisposed. Vaccines have no effect on either the increase or decrease of risk for those genetically predisposed to autism.

Treatment

There is no set treatment for those who are on the autism spectrum. Since it does fall on a spectrum, each person has their own variance of symptoms and ways autism affects them. However, there are treatment and intervention plans that may be able to be adapted on a person-to-person basis. These treatments include occupational therapy, applied behavior analysis, speech therapy and relationship development intervention. Since many people with autism also have other associated conditions, treating these other conditions may be able to help them improve their attention and learning behaviors.

Autism is a condition we are still learning more and more about each day. It is important to become educated and help stop the spread of misinformation about autism. If you would like more information please visit Autism Speaks for any additional questions.