Autism: Facts And The Latest Research

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects 1 in every 68 children in the United States. Also known as autism spectrum disorder, it is a lifelong condition that has no cure, and affects a child’s ability to communicate and socialize with the world around them. Most symptoms start showing up within the first two years of the child’s life, but the early warning signs can show up even within 6 months. The severity of the condition varies from child to child, but everyone has the same defining markers related to autism. Early recognition and intervention can help a child to develop some skills for the future, but if left for too long without intervention, it becomes difficult for the child and his parents to deal with the condition by themselves.

By six months, children who develop autism show no signs of smiling and other warm expressions. At around 9 months, infants show no signs of any communication, like responding back to sounds and gestures. When they’re a year old, there is a lack of response to their names, no babbling or

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any other type of baby talk and they also don’t use gestures such as pointing, waving and reaching out. By 16 months, they still cannot say any words, and make no attempt to talk. By the time they are two years old, children cannot form two-word sentences by themselves, and tend to repeat or mimic what they hear around them.

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As children get older, the symptoms of autism increase and become clearer to their parents and peers. The developing symptoms can be divided into 4 categories: social difficulties, speech and language difficulties, nonverbal communication difficulties and signs of inflexibility. Many autistic children also have repetitive and restricted behaviors.

Social Difficulties Include:

– Prefers not to be touched, cuddled or held
– Doesn’t play “pretend games”, engage with other children and use toys in creative ways
– Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them
– Appears distant and unaware about other people and his surroundings
– Doesn’t seem to hear when other people

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talk to him
– Doesn’t share things with other people

Language And Speech Difficulties Include:

• Has difficulty communicating needs or desires
• Responds to questions by repeating them rather than listening to them
• Doesn’t understand simple statements, directions and questions
• Speaks in an abnormal tone of voice, such as using an odd pitch or rhythm
• Uses language incorrectly, or can refer to self in the third person
• Repeats the same words or phrases over and over without having any intention of communicating
• Doesn’t understand undertones in language such as irony, humor and sarcasm

Nonverbal Communication Difficulties Include:

– Uses facial expression that don’t match what he is saying
– Makes very few gestures, and may seem rigid and robot-like.
– Clumsiness, abnormal posture of eccentric movements, such as only walking on tiptoes
– Avoids eye contact
– Doesn’t understand other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures
– Is unresponsive to other people’s attempts to get his attention
– Reacts unusually to sights, smells and sounds.

Signs Of Inflexibility:

– Has to follow a rigid routine
– Can react

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harshly if there is a change in the routine
– Preoccupation with narrow topic of interests, often involving numbers and symbols
– Spends long periods watching moving objects, or focusing on only one part of an object
– Repeats the same actions over and over again

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Some of the repetitive behaviors involve constantly flapping their hands, licking their fingers, banging their heads against objects, spinning in a circle, rocking back and forth, moving fingers in front of their eyes and ear tapping among others.

Up until recently, autism was thought to be entirely genetic but growing research shows that environmental and external factors also play a part in its development. Moreover, the prenatal environment also seems to be an important factor that may lead to autism. Pollutants like heavy metals and pesticides while pregnant, as well as infections in the mother during pregnancy also increase the risk factors. Some studies have shown that pregnant women who take antidepressants during the first trimester

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of their pregnancy correlates to autistic children being born.

New research has shown that autistic children have a significantly larger brain and increased brain volume during infancy, which was observed through MRI imaging in an infant’s development. The study, published in the journal “Nature”, went on to state that this sort of brain activity could help researchers predict whether a high-risk child will actually develop autism in the future. A group of 148 infants were chosen based on their risk factor; those that had a sibling with autism, which increased the child’s chances of developing autism him/herself, and those that had no history of autism in their family. The researchers were able to predict who would eventually show markers of autism by 2 years of age quite accurately. Though this study had its limitations, it is the first step toward predicting how autism can come about, and what factors might also be implicated in the development of the condition. Since research is vital to understanding how some conditions work, this is a step in the right direction.