Autism

Autism affects one in 160 children globally.  A whole body or neuro-mental disorder, it affects people in varying degrees and in a variety of ways.  Commonly witnessed comorbidities include seizures, depression, gastrointestinal and sleep disturbances, eating and feeding difficulties, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  These difficulties can extend across the life span.  Studies have found that people with autism have half the life span compared with the general population – an average of 36 versus 72 years. (Guan 2017)

Autism itself is not a cause of premature mortality. Rather, it relates to many medical and mental health conditions in this report – most of which are treatable and/or preventable.

Causes

Scientific evidence suggests that there are many environmental and genetic factors that may make a child more likely to have ASD.  Factors that increase the risk of developing ASD are:

  • Genetic conditions like down syndrome, fragile x syndrome and Rett syndrome
  • Children born with very low birth weight
  • Older parents
  • Siblings with ASD

Of course, not everyone with these risk factors develops ASD.

Diagnosis

The behaviour and development of a person is a tool to diagnose ASD.  Generally diagnosed by the age of two, assessment of the condition is important for the treatment to begin.

Diagnosis in young children is often conducted in 2 stages:

Stage1:  General Developmental Screening/ paediatric screening

The second stage of evaluation will be referred to those children who show developmental difficulties during the screening process.

Stage 2: Additional evaluation, by a team of doctors and health care professionals, assesses:

  • Cognitive level or thinking skills
  • Difficulty in learning language or language abilities
  • Difficulty to complete age – appropriate daily activities such as eating, dressing and toileting.

Recommendation and diagnosis of ASD is based on a comprehensive evaluation of blood tests and hearing tests.  Since ASD is a complex disorder it sometimes represents along with other illness or learning disorders.

Treatment

There is no single best treatment for ASD.  Early diagnosis and treatment can help the individual, while helping them learn new skills and make most of their strengths.

Medication:

Medications are prescribed to treat some symptoms of ASD, thereby alleviate some problems, like:

  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Repetitive behaviour
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention problems
  • Anxiety and depression

Genetic researchers are delving into the biological cause of autism and its associated health conditions.  A new avenue of autism research is aimed at identifying the many biological subtypes of autism and developing customized treatment and support.  Specialists at autism care centres work with patients and their families to improve the health and quality of life by specific medical education programs.

Key facts

  • One in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)(1).
  • ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood.
  • While some people with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.
  • Evidence-based psychosocial interventions, such as behavioural treatment and parent skills training programmes, can reduce difficulties in communication and social behaviour, with a positive impact on the well-being and quality of life for persons with ASD and their caregivers.
  • Interventions for people with ASD need to be accompanied by broader actions for making physical, social and attitudinal environments more accessible, inclusive and supportive.
  • Worldwide, people with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. Globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate.

Source : WHO

 

Sri Lakshmi H A  (Senior Nutritionist)