INTRODUCTION TO AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER (ASD)

Case 1

Chris was a 2-year-old toddler, who had a normal life as an infant and seemed to have crossed his early milestones adequately. However, he would not respond to his name being called, and would sit hours together lining up his toys in order of size. He would get agitated if someone or something disrupts the order. Slight changes would be extremely stressful and lead to outbursts, of crying or head banging. A visit to the doctor opened up a whole new world of ASD to Rohan’s parents.

Case 2

14-year-old Max excelled the language classes and already had a blog where he wrote about topics that interested him. However, Max was a quiet loner and exhibited certain peculiar traits, he was obsessively clean, to the extent that he used paper towels to open doors, and refused to use public toilets. The most astounding quirk of his abilities was that he could recite effortlessly and flawlessly – the railway stations between any two locations anywhere in India, at the blink of an eye.

 Case 3

Samarth was a quiet boy of 10 years. In India autism was seen as a result of past karma, and hence shunned by society in general. Samarth spoke nothing; he would not communicate at all, and would wail and flail his arms while running at will, with no awareness of danger. He was healthy otherwise, but would experience seizures in extreme conditions of distress.

 “While autism is usually a life-long condition, all children and adults benefit from interventions, or therapies, that can reduce symptoms and increase skills and abilities. Although it is best to begin intervention as soon as possible, the benefits of therapy can continue throughout life.” (Autism Speaks)

So, what is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a single disorder that includes disorders that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity. Although the term “Asperger’s syndrome” is no longer in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), some people still use the term, which is generally thought to be at the mild end or borderline, of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder is on the rise. This may be as a result of better detection and awareness of ASD, or there may be an actual increase in the number of cases, or both. While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, early diagnosis and recourse can bring solace in the quality of lives of many children.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is categorized by challenges in social-interaction, impaired communication skills and a predilection towards repetitive behaviors. However, symptoms and their gravity vary broadly across these three core areas. Overall, they may result in manageable challenges for someone on the mild or high functioning end of the autism spectrum.

On the other hand, for those whose symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language disrupt everyday life, the challenges are sometimes overwhelming.

 

As shown in the graph below, the basic symptoms of autism are often attended by other medical conditions and difficulties. These, too, can differ in severity, from person to person.

 

basic symptoms of autism

image courtesy: basic symptoms of autism

What are the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

 

  1. Insufficient social-emotional reciprocity, from atypical social approach and failure of normal to and fro dialogue; to a shortfall in sharing of interests and feelings to a failure to begin or react to social exchanges.
  1. 2. A lack or poor integration of nonverbal and, or verbal expressions and behaviors used during a social situation. These also include abnormalities in eye contact and body language or a deficiency in understanding and use of gestures or nuances of language; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  1. 3. Unable to create and maintain, or understand relationships, like altering behavior to conform to different social contexts; or challenges in making friends or a complete disregard of peers.

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