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From Medical News Today
What is autism?
Autism is known as a complex developmental disability. Experts believe that Autism presents itself during the first three years of a person's life. The condition is the result of a neurological disorder that has an effect on normal brain function, affecting development of the person's communication and social interaction skills.
People with autism have issues with non-verbal communication, a wide range of social interactions, and activities that include an element of play and/or banter.
Genomic research is beginning to discover that people with autism spectrum disorders probably share genetic traits with individuals with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or clinical depression. A team at the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomic Consortium suggests that the five mental disorders and illnesses have the same common inherited genetic variations.
What is ASD?
ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder and can sometimes be referred to as Autistic Spectrum Disorder. In this text Autism and ASD mean the same. ASDs are any developmental disabilities that have been caused by a brain abnormality. A person with an ASD typically has difficulty with social and communication skills.
A person with ASD will typically also prefer to stick to a set of behaviors and will resist any major (and many minor) changes to daily activities. Several relatives and friends of people with ASDs have commented that if the person knows a change is coming in advance, and has time to prepare for it; the resistance to the change is either gone completely or is much lower.
Autism is a wide-spectrum disorder
Autism (or ASD) is a wide-spectrum disorder. This means that no two people with autism will have exactly the same symptoms. As well as experiencing varying combinations of symptoms, some people will have mild symptoms while others will have severe ones. Below is a list of the most commonly found characteristics identified among people with an ASD.
The way in which a person with an ASD interacts with another individual is quite different compared to how the rest of the population behaves. If the symptoms are not severe, the person with ASD may seem socially clumsy, sometimes offensive in his/her comments, or out of synch with everyone else. If the symptoms are more severe, the person may seem not to be interested in other people at all.
It is common for relatives, friends and people who interact with someone with an ASD to comment that the ASD sufferer makes very little eye contact. However, as health care professionals, teachers and others are improving their ability to detect signs of autism at an earlier age than before, eye contact among people with autism is improving. In many cases, if the symptoms are not severe, the person can be taught that eye contact is important for most people and he/she will remember to look people in the eye.
A person with autism may often miss the cues we give each other when we want to catch somebody's attention. The person with ASD might not know that somebody is trying to talk to them. They may also be very interested in talking to a particular person or group of people, but does not have the same skills as others to become fully involved. To put it more simply, they lack the necessary playing and talking skills.
Empathy - Understanding and being aware of the feelings of others
A person with autism will find it much harder to understand the feelings of other people. His/her ability to instinctively empathize with others is much weaker than other people's. However, if they are frequently reminded of this, the ability to take other people's feelings into account improves tremendously.[Autism emotion management in action]
Frequent practice can help improve empathy in people with autism.
In some cases - as a result of frequent practice - empathy does improve, and some of it becomes natural rather than intellectual. Even so, empathy never comes as naturally for a person with autism as it does to others.
Having a conversation with a person with autism may feel very much like a one-way trip. The person with ASD might give the impression that he is talking at people, rather than with or to them. He may love a theme, and talk about it a lot. However, there will be much less exchanging of ideas, thoughts, and feelings than there might be in a conversation with a person who does not have autism.
Almost everybody on this planet prefers to talk about himself/herself more than other people; it is human nature. The person with autism will usually do so even more.
A number of children with an ASD do not like cuddling or being touched like other children do. It is wrong to say that all children with autism are like that. Many will hug a relative - usually the mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, teacher, and or sibling(s) - and enjoy it greatly. Often it is a question of practice and anticipating that physical contact is going to happen. For example, if a child suddenly tickles another child's feet, he will most likely giggle and become excited and happy. If that child were to tickle the feet of a child with autism, without that child anticipating the contact, the result might be completely different.
Loud noises, some smells, and lights
A person with autism usually finds sudden loud noises unpleasant and quite shocking. The same can happen with some smells and sudden changes in the intensity of lighting and ambient temperature.
Many believe it is not so much the actual noise, smell or light, but rather the surprise, and not being able to prepare for it - similar to the response to surprising physical contact.
If the person with autism knows something is going to happen, he can cope with it much better. Even knowing that something 'might' happen, and being reminded of it, helps a lot.
The higher the severity of the autism, the more affected are a person's speaking skills. Many children with an ASD do not speak at all. People with autism will often repeat words or phrases they hear - an event called echolalia.
The speech of a person with ASD may sound much more formal and woody, compared to other people's speech. Teenagers with Asperger's Syndrome can sometimes sound like young professors. Their intonation may sound flat.
A person with autism likes predictability. Routine is his/her best friend. Going through the motions again and again is very much part of his/her life. To others, these repetitive behaviors may seem like bizarre rites. The repetitive behavior could be a simple hop-skip-jump from one end of the room to the other, repeated again and again for one, five, or ten minutes - or even longer. Another could be drawing the same picture again and again, page after page.
People without autism are much more adaptable to changes in procedure. A child without autism may be quite happy to first have a bath, then brush his teeth, and then put on his pajamas before going to bed - even though he usually brushes his teeth first. For a child with autism this change, bath first and then teeth, could completely put him/her out, and they may become very upset. Some people believe that helping a child with autism learn how to cope better with change is a good thing, however, forcing them to accept change like others do could adversely affect their quality of life.
A child with autism develops differently
While a child without autism will develop in many areas at a relatively harmonious rate, this may not be the case for a child with autism. His/her cognitive skills may develop fast, while their social and language skills trail behind. On the other hand, his/her language skills may develop rapidly while their motor skills don't. They may not be able to catch a ball as well as the other children, but could have a much larger vocabulary. Nonetheless, the social skills of a person with autism will not develop at the same pace as other people's.
Learning may be unpredictable
How quickly a child with autism learns things can be unpredictable. They may learn something much faster than other children, such as how to read long words, only to forget them completely later on. They may learn how to do something the hard way before they learn how to do it the easy way.
Physical tics and stimming
It is not uncommon for people with autism to have tics. These are usually physical movements that can be jerky. Some tics can be quite complicated and can go on for a very long time. A number of people with autism are able to control when they happen, others are not. People with ASD who do have tics often say that they have to be expressed, otherwise the urge does not stop. For many, going through the tics is enjoyable, and they have a preferred spot where they do them - usually somewhere private and spacious. When parents first see these tics, especially the convoluted ones, they may experience shock and worry.
Myths about Autism
A person with autism feels love, happiness, sadness and pain just like everyone else. Just because some of them may not express their feelings in the same way others do, does not mean at all that they do not have feelings - THEY DO!! It is crucial that the Myth - Autistic people have no feelings - is destroyed. The myth is a result of ignorance, not some conspiracy. Therefore, it is important that you educate people who carry this myth in a helpful and informative way.
Not all people with autism have an incredible gift or savantism for numbers or music.However, a sizeable proportion of people with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) have high IQs and a unique talent for computer science. German software company SAP AG has become aware of this and announced in May 2013 that it planned to employ hundreds of people with autism as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists.
Autism Defined by Various Organizations
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.
ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age. Autism Speaks continues to fund research on effective methods for earlier diagnosis, as early intervention with proven behavioral therapies can improve outcomes. Increasing autism awareness is a key aspect of this work and one in which our families and volunteers play an invaluable role.
How Common Is Autism?
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered. Learn more …
What Causes Autism?
Not long ago, the answer to this question would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers. First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.
Increasingly, researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in autism. Autism Speaks is working to increase awareness and investigation of these and other issues, where further research has the potential to improve the lives of those who struggle with autism. Learn more …
What Does It Mean to Be “On the Spectrum”?
Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About one third of people with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means. Autism Speaks’ mission is to improve the lives of all those on the autism spectrum. For some, this means the development and delivery of more effective treatments that can address significant challenges in communication and physical health. For others, it means increasing acceptance, respect and support.