What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder? Its Symptoms And Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder which is associated with impaired development of communication, behavior and social interaction. The severity may range from mild to severe. As per statistics, the condition affects one in 88 children or has a prevalence of 1 to 1.2 per 100 children, reports have suggested that autism spectrum disorder is on the rise with an estimated increase of 78% over the past 10 years (this can be attributed to better diagnostic abilities of the condition.)

The condition is five times more common among boys than girls and autism spectrum disorder may be found to be prevalent in higher percentage in certain regions.

While the condition was often confused as childhood schizophrenia in the past, the definition and clinical features continue to be refined as time progresses.

Causes Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Unfortunately there is little understanding about the causes associated with autism spectrum disorder. Some experts suggest that there can be a host of causative factors which may contribute to the onset of the condition. Some of the risk factors include,

  • Higher age of the mother at the time of the birth of the child.
  • Bleeding during pregnancy. This reduces the nutritional supply to the fetal brain which in turn can result in poor growth of the brain and contribute to autism.
  • Gestational diabetes i.e. diabetes during pregnancy in the mother is also known to be associated with higher risk of autism in the child.
  • Certain prenatal medications can also be associated with the risk of development of autism.

Some experts suggest that poor bonding with mother after childbirth, especially during the first six to nine months may also increase the risk of autism.

Autism is also associated with other disorders like fragile X syndrome, cerebral dysgenesis, Rett Syndrome and some types of inborn metabolic disorders.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms

As per the Manual for Mental Disorders, there are three characteristic symptoms which are associated with autism spectrum disorder,

  • Impaired social interaction i.e. inability to interact with individuals other than their usual caregivers. The condition is non-willingness to questions asked by strangers, avoiding new places/locations, etc.
  • Impaired Communication i.e. inability to maintain eye contact, altered facial expression and body posture.
  • Impaired Behavior i.e. repetitive and restrictive actions, interests and activities. Any change in routine activities may result in severe opposition or resistance from the autistic child.

How To Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Most of the symptoms associated become apparent prior to the age of three years. There are various checklists and pervasive developmental screening tests to detect autism in children below the age of three years.

Physical examination and medical history is often indicative of this disorder. Children with autism have some degree of muscular weakness and increased reflexes on one side of the body. Children with autism have delayed language development and hence hearing evaluation is required.

Two tests are performed in order to ascertain the hearing abilities of the child. These tests primarily include behavioral audiometry and brainstem auditory evoked response test. If the child is not capable of hearing, delayed language may be attributed to deafness and not to autism.

If the child is found to be capable of hearing, other investigations need to be performed to confirm autism. These include DNA and chromosomal studies, blood and urine samples and CT scan to check for brain lesions.

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