You can’t help but hear about how autism rates are rising in the news today. There’s good reason why, too. Government officials report that autism spectrum disorder is now diagnosed in 1 in every 68 children, which makes it the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the country. More children are being diagnosed with autism each year than AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. (1)
What’s autism? Autism is a very complex disorder and the needs of each autistic individual can vary greatly based on his or her autism symptoms. Autism signs can include ritualistic behaviors and difficulties socializing with others. Signs of autism begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.
There is currently no one clear cause nor a cure for autism, but the good news is that more all-natural type treatments are emerging as successful in dealing with autism symptoms. If you or someone you know has autism then this is really a must read article for you to discover hope.
What Is Autism?
What is the correct autism definition or autism meaning? Autism, also referred to as autistic disorder or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is defined as a developmental disability that affects brain development and can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Some people wonder are autism and Down syndrome the same thing? No, they are two totally different diagnoses and conditions. It is possible to have both at the same time. DS-ASD is a condition known as co-occurring down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. For further information on this dual-diagnosis: Down Syndrome-Autism Connection.
Common signs of autism (autism behavior) include marked differences in the way an individual socializes, communications and behaves. Let’s talk about some of the most tell-tale autism signs.
Signs and Symptoms
As you learn more about autism, you’ll find there are certain behaviors common amongst afflicted autistic kids. These autism signs and autism symptoms are also true for autism in adults. Let’s look at some of the most common autism signs: (2)
What are the behaviors of autism? Restrictive and/or repetitive behaviors are common and can include:
- Need for repeated rituals
- Repetitive and compulsive behaviors
- Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
- Having a lasting, intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details or facts
- Repetition of motor activities such as head banging, hand or limb flapping, spinning, body rocking, flicking, scratching, yelling, grunting, teeth grinding, tapping, tracing or feeling textures
Social/communication issues and problematic interaction behaviors may include:
- Becoming upset because of a slight change in a routine or being placed in a new or overly stimulating setting
- Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing them to others
- Little or inconsistent eye contact
- Tendency to look at and listen to others less often
- Difficulties with the back and forth of conversations
- Responding in strange manner when others show affection, anger or distress
- Failing to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or other verbal attempts to gain attention
- Often talking at length about a favorite subject without realizing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
- Repeating words or phrases they hear (echolalia)
- Using words that seem odd, out of place, or have a special meaning known only to those familiar with that person’s way of communicating
- Facial expressions, movements and gestures that don’t match what is being said
- An unusual tone of voice that can sound sing-song or flat and robot-like
- Trouble understanding another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions
There are also specific abilities and strengths that people with ASD are known to have including: (3)
- Having above-average intelligence – the CDC reports 46 percent of ASD children have above average intelligence
- Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time
- Being strong visual and auditory learners
- Excelling in math, science, music and/or art.
Some signs of autism in babies and toddlers (birth to 24 months) can include: (4)
- Lack of interest in faces
- Not making eye contact
- Not smiling
- Not reacting to sounds
- Doesn’t use gestures, like reaching for you when he or she wants to be held
- Dislikes being cuddled or touched
- Doesn’t babble or show other early signs of talking
- Doesn’t use single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by 24 months
There are clearly many possible signs of autism. Someone with autism may not display all of the autism signs.
Types of Autism
Types of autism or rather autism spectrum disorder now include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome. All of these conditions are now known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD for short. The CDC points out, “It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms. But for people with ASD, the impairments make life very challenging.” (5a)
The latest edition of the manual from the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), does not specify the subcategories of ASD. Rather, they include a range or spectrum of symptoms and severity within one category. In the past, children would receive a specific autism diagnosis or Asperger’s diagnosis, but now the diagnosis for both of these conditions as well as other pervasive developmental disorders is ASD. (5b)
Other types of pervasive development disorder (PDD) in addition to autism and Asperger’s include childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett’s syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism is the most characteristic and best studied PDD. (6)
What does it mean to be on the autistic spectrum? It means that an individual displays some behavioral and developmental problems associated with autism spectrum disorder. While there challenging characteristics of being on the spectrum, autism in adults or children can reveal itself in remarkable abilities when it comes to music, visual skills as well as academic abilities.
It’s estimated that approximately 40 percent of autistic individual have intellectual disability (an IQ under 70) yet many have normal to above average IQ levels. Some people with autism are on the end of the spectrum and their challenges are so great that they can’t live alone. (7)
Meanwhile, other people with autism are on the other end of the spectrum and are said to have high functioning autism. What is the definition of high functioning autism or HFA? People with HFA can often read, speak and write, handle basic life skills (like dressing themselves), function and live independently, and overall, lead relatively “normal” lives. It’s also a label often used for autistic individuals with an IQ of 70 or above. High functioning autism (HFA) is not an official medical term or diagnosis. People with HFA can still display signs of autism and also have significant issues with communication and social interaction. (8)
What causes autism? According to the CDC, we are not currently aware of all the things that may cause ASD, but we do know some likely autism causes and risk factors. Many experts agree that the critical period for developing ASD is before, during and immediately after birth. Autism signs are often seen before a child turns two. Examples of environmental, biologic and genetic factors that may contribute to autism include: (9)
- Genes: Most scientists agree that genes are a risk factor that can lead a person to be more likely to develop ASD.
- Sibling history: Children with a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.
- Medications during pregnancy: When the prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid are used during pregnancy, they have been linked with a greater risk of offspring having ASD.
- Chromosome abnormalities: ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis.
- Parent Age: Older parents may be at a higher risk for having autistic children.
According to the Autism Research Institute, evidence has shown that some viruses may cause autism. For example, it’s possible that there is a greater risk of having an autistic child after exposure to rubella during the first trimester of the pregnancy. Cytolomegalovirus is another virus that has been associated with autism. There is also concern that certain towns in the U.S. (such as Brick Township, New Jersey and Leomenster, Massachusetts) are seeing greater rates of autism due to toxins and environmental pollution. (10)
A leaky gut and an abnormal gut microbiota have also been associated with ASD in scientific research. A scientific article published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience states reviews numerous clinical studies and concludes that research has definitely shown that treatments that regulate the bacteria in the gut microbiota lead to improvements in signs of autism. (11)
Diagnosis and Conventional Treatment
Autism, which is now considered to as ASD, is typically diagnosed in a two step process. First, there is a developmental screen followed by a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. Some children are diagnosed by 18 months or ever earlier while others aren’t diagnosed until much later.
According to the CDC, “By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable.” However, the CDC also points out that, “Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. ” (12)
There is no set standard of treatment for someone with ASD, especially since autism signs can vary and each case is so unique. It’s also a fact that there are currently no medications that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms. Conventional autism treatment will often include medications to help patients to “function better.” (13)
Everyone with autism has a different chemical makeup, a different body. It’s vital to not give up on one autism treatment if you don’t see improvement. Many autism sufferers have seen improvement with diet changes (such as a gluten and dairy-free diet) and the addition of certain vitamins and minerals into their diets.
There are many perspectives on natural autism treatment, including those from Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicinea. To learn more, check out my article: Autism Natural Treatment.
- If you suspect your child is exhibiting signs of autism or another PDD, it’s vital to get a diagnosis from your doctor. Getting more than one opinion is a great idea, too, since autism can be misdiagnosed.
- Signs of autism or ASD symptoms are on a spectrum and vary from person to person.
- Once confirmed, I recommend working with your health care practitioner to treat autism using the least invasive therapies and drugs.
- Have your child tested to see if they have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten or casein. Proceed to implementing a gluten-free, dairy-free diet which has been shown to help signs of autism for some.
- Education is such a key part of autism awareness and it’s also a way to empower yourself to find the best treatment plan for yourself or someone you love with ASD.