Since April is Autism Awareness Month, SmartKnitKIDS wants to help bring awareness to Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
What are Autism Spectrum Disorders and Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a range of brain disorders that are characterized by restricted patterns of behavior and impairments in social communication and interactions. Symptoms can vary drastically from individual to individual in both number and severity, but typically share similar features and origins.
What is autistic disorder?
Autistic disorder is the most common Autism Spectrum Disorder and is commonly referred to as autism. Autism severely impairs a child’s social interaction and ability to communicate.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome is a milder form of autism and is the second most common ASD. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit a higher language development than children with autism. Many of them will have normal intellectual ability, but have a disinterest in social communication.
What are the other Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Although Autism and Asperger’s are more known, there are other named disorders on the spectrum. One is Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or PDDNOS. Children with PDDNOS demonstrate some of the symptoms similar to autism disorder, but do not meet all the criteria of autism. Another more rare disorder is Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD). This one affects more boys than girls. Children with this disorder develop normally for approximately two years and then regress in most areas and continue to regress beginning around age 3 or 4. They experience a pronounced loss in motor, language, social and intellectual skills, as well as loss of bowel and bladder control. They may also experience seizures. Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder in which autistic symptoms begin to develop between 6 and 18 months of age, after early normal development. Rett syndrome affects females almost exclusively. Those with Rett syndrome typically begin to shun social contact, cease talking, have unique motor behaviors and regress in skills. The cause of Rett syndrome has been identified as a single gene mutation.
What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can appear gradually or suddenly. Most symptoms will become noticeable by the age of 3, but can be observed as early as birth. Symptoms can include:
- Social Deficits – Social interactions are difficult for children with autism. They may avoid eye contact. They may avoid interactions with people. They often have difficulty reading social cues. They may have difficulty controlling emotions, can be disruptive or aggressive. They may lose control easily when frustrated or uncomfortable.
- Communication Difficulties – Communication difficulties vary from child to child. Some children with autism may have very good language skills, but have difficulty in initiating or sustaining conversations. Other children may have language delays or regression in language development. Other children may be mute, while others still will have unusual use of language, such as repeating a phrase or parroting. Children with autism may also have difficulty with body language. Their facial expressions, tone and gestures may not match the verbal content or emotions.
- Repetitive Behavior – Many children with autism, or even adults for that matter, insist on consistency. They will have difficulty with any change, however minor, with their routines. They may exhibit repetitive motions like arm-flapping, freezing, rocking back and forth or walking on their toes. They may become intensely preoccupied with any certain topic. Or can spend long periods of time arranging toys rather than playing with them.
- Sensory Difficulties – Although, children may exhibit Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) without being on the spectrum, many children on the spectrum do exhibit Sensory Processing Disorder. This is when the brain is unable to balance the senses appropriately. Children with this disorder can be hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive to sounds, textures, tastes or smells. Children may have difficulty with crowds due to the over-stimulus of noise. Many children with SPD and autism have difficulty with tags or seams in their clothes. What may not be noticed at all or even a minor annoyance to some, will feel extremely uncomfortable to children with SPD. SmartKnitKIDS seamless socks and undergarments can help many of these children.
- Unusual Abilities – Some children with ASD can display truly remarkable abilities. These can include artistic talents, musical abilities without training, or the ability to memorize difficult lists of information.
Who develops autism spectrum disorders?
Autism Spectrum Disorders are three to four times more common in boys than in girls. However, girls with an ASD tend to have more severe symptoms. Autism touches people of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups,
What are the causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Most researchers believe that it is a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors that cause ASD. They are exploring genes which they believe contribute to the development of ASD. Abnormal brain development during the first months of life is being studied. Researchers hope to determine if structural abnormalities may be caused by genetic and/or environmental factors.
How Did My Child Develop Autism?
Researchers are learning more about autism every day, but we still have a lot to learn. Research does suggest that the development of autism happens in the very early brain development. Researchers have identified several genes that can cause autism, but these genes only account for 15% of autism cases. They have also identified more than 100 different genes or gene mutations that can increase a child’s risk of developing autism. But, most researchers believe it is not genes alone that can cause a child to develop autism. Many scientists believe that it is a combination of genetics and environment, or non-genetic factors. Some environmental factors that increase the likelihood of autism include: advanced parental age at time of conception; prematurity with very low birth weight; maternal diabetes; infection during pregnancy; and certain birth complications, including those that may involve oxygen deprivation to a baby’s brain. Although researchers are closer than ever to understanding why a child develops autism, this is still a medical frontier. The organization Autism Speaks funds a multitude of studies working towards discovering the causes of autism.
Are Vaccines the Cause?
Researchers have spent two decades extensively looking for any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. They have had very clear results. Vaccines do not cause autism.
How are Autism Spectrum Disorders diagnosed?
Currently, there is no diagnostic test to detect autism. But, scientists are hopeful that with more research a diagnostic test may be available in the future. For now, diagnosis comes from various screening instruments, as well as parental input. These tools are able to measure the prevalence of symptoms of autism. A child may display symptoms right away or it can occur after several months of normal development. Some of the things to look for in children between 18 months and 3 years include:
- Limited pretend play
- Lack of pointing to demonstrate interest
- Reduced gaze following
- Less frequent demonstration of repetitive, stereotypic behaviors
- In children with autism between 2 years and 3 years of age, the following features may be observed:
- Communication difficulties
- Socialization deficits with caregivers
- Perceptual sensitivity
- Other difficult behaviors
How are Autism Spectrum Disorders typically treated?
Every person with autism or an autism spectrum disorder is different. Because of that, there is no exact treatment for it. However, the best outcomes come from the earliest interventions. There are many different methods that might be used depending on each individual. They can include medications, behavioral therapy, psycho-education, family support groups, educational interventions, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and specialized training.
How Common is Autism?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify that 1 in every 68 American children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. While this is a 10-fold increase over the last 40 years, much of the increase is due to improved diagnosis and awareness. ASD affects more than 2 million people in the US and tens of millions worlwide.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Something is Wrong with My Child?
Early intervention has been shown to provide children with autism the best chance for improving function and maximizing progress. Talk to your child’s doctor right away. Also, you can contact your state’s Early Intervention Services to have your child screened.
How Do I Get My Child the Help He or She Needs?
A great resource for finding the right professionals is the Autism Treatment Network from Autism Speaks. The ATN is a network of hospitals, physicians, researchers and families at 17 locations across the US and Canada. The clinicians at ATN work together to develop the most effective approach to medical care for children and adolescents affected by autism.
What if I Suspect that I Have Autism?
This is possible. Researchers are learning more and more about autism, but there is so much that is still unknown. A greater knowledge in identifying autism has lead to a greater prevalence in diagnosis. But, many adults that have Asperger’s Syndrome or other high-functioning forms of autism never received a diagnosis as a child. They only come to a diagnosis when they seek help for problems they have at work or in their social lives. If you suspect that you may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, a licensed clinical psychologist, neurologist or psychiatrist can evaluate you and make a diagnosis.
How Do I Deal with this Diagnosis?
When a parent receives a diagnosis that their child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder it can be confusing and emotional. But, the very best way to move forward for you and your child is to educate yourself. Early intervention has had really great results, and it is important to find out all you can to make sure you take advantage of all the resources available to your child. Take advantage of resources yourself, too. There are many great online communities or local organizations to obtain advice from other parents.
Will My Child Be Able to Attend School?
Of course! It is your child’s right to attend school according to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Act says that every child deserves access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether is is in a mainstream classroom or special education.
** Sources for the content of this blog include The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and Autism Speaks.