April is World Autism Month

April is World Autism Month

Learn about what Autism is, and what world Autism month is.

Everything You Need to Know About Autism

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What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders.

These disorders are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. People with ASD often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped interests or patterns of behavior.

ASD is found in individuals around the world, regardless of race, culture, or economic background. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, autism does occur more often in boys than in girls, with a 4 to 1 male-to-female ratio.

The CDC estimated in 2014 that nearly 1 in 59 children have been identified with ASD.

There are indications that instances of ASD are on the rise. Some attribute this increase to environmental factors. However, experts debate whether there’s an actual increase in cases or just more frequent diagnoses.

Compare autism rates in different states throughout the country.

What are the different types of autism?

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is used by clinicians to diagnose a variety of psychiatric disorders.

The fifth and most recent edition of the DSM was released in 2013. The DSM-5 currently recognizes five different ASD subtypes, or specifiers. They are:

  • with or without accompanying intellectual impairment
  • with or without accompanying language impairment
  • associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
  • associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
  • with catatonia

Someone can be diagnosed with one or more specifiers.

Prior to the DSM-5, people on the autism spectrum may have been diagnosed with one of the following disorders:

  • autistic disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
  • childhood disintegrative disorder

It’s important to note that a person who received one of these earlier diagnoses hasn’t lost their diagnosis and won’t need to be reevaluated.

According to the DSM-5, the broader diagnosis of ASD encompasses disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome.https://f6722f384f2a1b0d536a382fa8e4c3d3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

What are the symptoms of autism?

Autism symptoms typically become clearly evident during early childhood, between 12 and 24 months of age. However, symptoms may also appear earlier or later.

Early symptoms may include a marked delay in language or social development.

The DSM-5 divides symptoms of autism into two categories: problems with communication and social interaction, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities.

Problems with communication and social interaction include:

  • issues with communication, including difficulties sharing emotions, sharing interests, or maintaining a back-and-forth conversation
  • issues with nonverbal communication, such as trouble maintaining eye contact or reading body language
  • difficulties developing and maintaining relationships

Restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities include:

  • repetitive movements, motions, or speech patterns
  • rigid adherence to specific routines or behaviors
  • an increase or decrease in sensitivity to specific sensory information from their surroundings, such as a negative reaction to a specific sound
  • fixated interests or preoccupations

Individuals are evaluated within each category and the severity of their symptoms is noted.

In order to receive an ASD diagnosis, a person must display all three symptoms in the first category and at least two symptoms in the second category.powered by Rubicon Project

What causes autism?

The exact cause of ASD is unknown. The most current research demonstrates that there’s no single cause.

Some of the suspected risk factors for autism include:

  • having an immediate family member with autism
  • genetic mutations
  • fragile X syndrome and other genetic disorders
  • being born to older parents
  • low birth weight
  • metabolic imbalances
  • exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins
  • a history of viral infections
  • fetal exposure to the medications valproic acid (Depakene) or thalidomide (Thalomid)

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), both genetics and environment may determine whether a person develops autism.

Multiple sources, old and newTrusted Source, have concluded that the disorder isn’t caused by vaccines, however.

A controversial 1998 study proposed a link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, that study has been debunked by other research and was eventually retracted in 2010Trusted Source.

Read more about autism and its risk factors.

What tests are used to diagnose autism?

An ASD diagnosis involves several different screenings, genetic tests, and evaluations.

Developmental screenings

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children undergo screening for ASD at the ages of 18 and 24 months.

Screening can help with early identification of children who could have ASD. These children may benefit from early diagnosis and intervention.

The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) is a common screening tool used by many pediatric offices. This 23-question survey is filled out by parents. Pediatricians can then use the responses provided to identify children that may be at risk of having ASD.

It’s important to note that screening isn’t a diagnosis. Children who screen positively for ASD don’t necessarily have the disorder. Additionally, screenings sometimes don’t detect every child that has ASD.

Other screenings and tests

Your child’s physician may recommend a combination of tests for autism, including:

Diagnoses are typically made by a team of specialists. This team may include child psychologists, occupational therapists, or speech and language pathologists.

Learn more about the tests used to diagnose autism.

Learn more at Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/world-autism-month

Ms. Jenn Landers | Patient Advocate Alliance LLC
  Edited by Dr. Justin Groode

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