What is autism? What are symptoms?

Last updated date: 17-Jul-2021

Acibadem Sistina Hospital

5 mins read

If your child does have the motor skills of her/his age, difficulty in communicating with you and repeats same movements continuously, they may be signs of autism.

Have an eye out for autism

Does your child act different than her/his peers? If s/he avoids eye contact and s/he does not speak, respond to her/his name, listen to you and understand you along with repetitive behavior patterns, you may get suspicious for autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that begins in early childhood and persists lifetime. Verbal and non-verbal communication impairs in autism; communication with others is limited to, fulfillment of needs and behaviors follow a strict pattern. Children with autism may have difficulty learning and lower intelligence at various degrees.


Symptoms of autism

First 18 months of the life is so crucial for diagnosis of autism. Following symptoms of autism may be recognized in early childhood:

  • Reduced eye contact
  • Does not speak
  • No response to her/his name
  • Does not listen to others
  • Failure to comprehend instructions and commands
  • Attention problem
  • Limited and repetitive behaviors and areas of focus
  • Does not need to communicate

It is 4 times more common in boys

Autism affects communication and social interaction skills very adversely, resulting in developmental incompatibilities. Autism is three to four times more likely in boys than girls. Incidence of autism is 2-5/1.000 in general population; the risk of autism in a child is 3-8%, if sibling is autistic, while this risk is 60 percent in twins.


Special education in autism

Various medical treatments are available for attention deficit, hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors that accompany the autism. However, there is no medical treatment for autism. There is no known drug that may help main symptoms of autism, namely social interaction and communication disorders. Treatment of autism aims to regulate the communication of the child with parents, improvement of empathy and creating a wish to communicate. These goals can be achieved through special education and psychotherapy. Special educational approaches are required that improve communication skills in all children with high suspicion of autism. Educational therapy covers 6 hours a month in our country. However, special education should be started before 3 years of age and cover minimum of 40 hours. Intensive and continuous educational programs and behavioral therapies help self-care and social skill gains especially in early childhood. It boosts functioning, relieves symptoms and reduces maladaptive behaviors.


Most important approach: Acceptance

Although there are many alternative therapies and interventions for autism, they are not supported by scientific studies. Families should accept autism and play an interactive role in treatment; medication treatment for co-existing conditions, psychotherapy and most importantly, highly structured educational therapies may create very promising results in treatment of autism. Moreover, they may stop progression of symptoms in autism.


How is autism diagnosed?

Diagnosis of autism requires a high index of suspicion. Any and all delays in developmental milestones of the child should be taken into consideration and evaluated. The diagnosis can be established when the child is 18 months old, if mother, father, child’s doctor, senior members of the family or other people who communicate with the child do have a high index of suspicion. The thought “autism is only a problem of speaking” is the major challenge for establishing diagnosis of autism. However, communication and interaction in early childhood are more predominant in non-verbal areas. Autism should be suspected, if eye contact, response to her/his name and certain skills, such as pointing an object with finger, are weak. However, not all conditions that are suspicious for autism are diagnosed with autism. Therefore, the child should be evaluated by a specialist for differential diagnosis.


If the baby has no eye contact…

Babies look at other people who look at him/her since their birth. They start interesting in objects that catch their attention and respond to their names when they are 12 months old. They start speaking one or two words at 16 months of age and they may point to and share these objects. If these reactions are not observed in 18 months of age, the child should be evaluated regarding autism. Moreover, 24-month old babies can speak up to ten words and understand up to fifty words. Another important sign is delays in language development.


When can diagnosis of autism be established?

Autism shows symptoms starting at early stages. The condition can be diagnosed, when the child is 18 months old. Medical, developmental and behavioral history, physical examination and evaluation of other potential diseases, such as pervasive developmental disorder, are important to make the definitive diagnosis at this stage. Early diagnosis and intervention as well as educational therapies are required for informing the family about autism.


Do genes play a role in autism?

Autism has a hereditary origin. Genetic and environmental factors act jointly in the development of this condition. It is estimated that approximately 80 genes cause autism. However, only one of them could be identified. Although studies are still on the way, it is not possible to diagnose autism in pregnancy.


Role of parents in autism

First, it is necessary to accept this condition. Families may need time to accept the disorders such as autism with no exact cause and uncertain treatment that persist lifetime. Educating the mother and the father and their active participation are inevitable part of any and all procedures. Parents should carefully follow developmental milestones of children and they should watch out whether their developmental skills are normal for the child’s age; child’s doctor should be visited at regular intervals and be informed about all concerns. Delays in developmental milestones are important and should not be ignored. Some parents tend to disregard such developmental delays based on the belief “I had also started speaking late” or “We could not take care well”. This approach delays the diagnosis of autism.


Other Articles