Parents who learn that their child has autism perceive this condition as a death sentence. What is this mysterious disease? What are the causes of its development? Is it possible to recognize it at an early stage? Let’s find it out.
What is autism?
Autism is a disorder of mental and psychological development, in which there is a pronounced deficiency of emotional manifestations and the sphere of communication. A person suffering from a disease like this never shows his/her emotions, gestures and speech to others, and his/her actions often lack social meaning.
Many parents are worried about the question of how to understand that a child has autism and at what age is this disease manifested for the first time? Most often, such a diagnosis is made to children aged 3 to 5 years and is called RDA early childhood autism or Kanner’s syndrome. The clinical manifestations of this disease, as well as the principles of treatment, depend on the form of autism and are most often manifested in violation of facial expressions, gestures, loudness and intelligibility of speech.
What are the causes of the disease?
In most cases, autistic children are well developed physically and have a pleasant appearance, that is, it is not obvious that this baby has any disease of the nervous system. The exact causes of autism are unknown to specialists, but there are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of this disease, these include:
- cerebral palsy;
- oxygen starvation transferred during pregnancy or childbirth;
- infectious diseases, such as rubella, cytomegalovirus, transmitted by the mother during pregnancy;
- obesity in the mother (doctors noted that the risk of developing autism in a child is higher if the mother suffered from obesity and other metabolic disorders in the body during pregnancy);
- hereditary predisposition – if there were already cases of autism in children in the family on the maternal or paternal side.
How does the autistic child perceive the world around?
A child with autism usually cannot combine the details of any actions in one chain. In almost every case, a child with autism cannot distinguish animate objects from inanimate objects, and he/she sees a person not as a whole, but as a “set” of individual parts of the body. All surrounding external influences (touch, light, sound, close contact) have an irritating effect on the autistic person, therefore, the patient most often closes in on himself/herself and refuses to make contact even with close people.
Symptoms and signs of autism
Autism in children is expressed by certain clinical signs. Early childhood autism can occur for the first time even in a one-year-old baby. Of course, only a specialist can diagnose the disease, but parents can suspect a pathology in their child if he or she often has the following conditions:
- when talking with an adult, he or she looks away and never looks into the eyes (missing look);
- not interested in communicating with peers, prefers to play on his/her own and walks away from the playground;
- doesn’t like to be touched and always gets nervous at this time;
- shows sensitivity to some loud sounds;
- doesn’t talk, is usually silent, and when the kid speaks, he/she cannot always clearly express what he/she wants;
- often makes tantrums;
- passive or, conversely, hyperactive;
- he/she is not aware of the danger of the situation, for example, he/she puts things into the outlet, picks up sharp objects in his/her hands, tries to cross the road along which the car travels at high speed.
Symptoms of autism in children: first signals to parents
There are 4 main clinical signs characteristic for early autism:
- violation of social interaction;
- communication disruption;
- stereotyped behavior;
- early clinical manifestations of autism in preschool children (1 to 3 years).
Violation of social interaction
As soon as the child reaches the age of one, parents can observe the first manifestations of autism. A mild form of the disease is considered to be a violation of eye-to-eye contact, that is, when the baby does not look at the adult when contacting him/her and does not respond to speech. In addition, such a child may not smile at all at any attempt by the parent to make fun of him/her or, conversely, laugh when there is no reason for this.
Children with autism most often use gestures in communication and only for the purpose of expressing their needs and getting what they want.
A child with a similar problem is not able to find contact with peers, other children are simply not interested in him/her. The autistic kid is always away from other children and prefers to play independently, and any attempts to join his/her games end in tantrums and whims.
Another difference between an autistic child and a normal healthy baby aged 2-3 years is that they do not play role-playing games and are not able to come up with a game plot. Toys are not perceived as integral objects, for example, an autistic can only be interested in a wheel from a typewriter, and he/she will twist it for hours, instead of rolling a car.
A child with autism does not respond to the emotional communication of the parents, but if the mother disappears from sight, such a baby begins to show anxiety.
Autists up to 5 years of age and older have a pronounced delay in speech development or mutism (complete lack of speech). The possibility of further speech development (after 5 years) depends on the severity of the course of the disease – with a severe form of autism, the child may not even begin to speak or outline his/her needs in short words – eat, drink, sleep. In most cases, speech, if present, is not connected, sentences are meaningless and represent a set of words. Many autistic people talk about themselves in the third person.
Abnormal speech is observed. If you ask such a child a question, he or she can only repeat the last words or answer something unrelated to the topic. In most cases, autistic children do not respond to their own name when someone calls them.
The following actions can be attributed to the stereotypical behavior of autistic children:
- Focusing on one lesson. A child can build a tower for several hours, spin the wheel from a typewriter, and assemble the same puzzle. At the same time, it is very difficult to distract his or her attention to something else;
- Performing daily rituals – autistic children feel discomfort and anxiety if their usual environment changes. Changes such as moving furniture in the room, moving to a new apartment can provoke a baby’s deep withdrawal into himself/herself or expressed aggression;
- The repetition of certain movements many times in a row – under stress or in an unusual environment, a child with autism can senselessly repeat the same movements many times, for example, shake his/her head, sway to the sides, tug with his/her fingers;
- Fear – with often repeated stressful situations, such a child develops aggression even in relation to himself/herself.
Early autism symptoms in children under one year of age
Attentive parents can notice the first signs of autism in a child under one year of age. In the first months of life, such babies show less interest in bright toys, they are less mobile, have scanty facial expressions. As they grow up (at the age of 5-6 months), babies with autism are practically not interested in objects near them, they do not try to grab them, while the muscle tone of their hands is developed normally.
Intelligence in a child with autism
Depending on the course of this disease, some signs of autism can also occur in the intellectual development of the child. In most cases, these babies have a slight mental retardation. Autistic children do not study well at school, do not remember school materials, cannot concentrate on lessons – all this is caused by the presence of anomalies and brain defects.
In the case when autism is caused by chromosomal developmental abnormalities, microcephaly or epilepsy, the child develops deep mental retardation. The main feature of this disease in children is selective intelligence. This means that sick children can show excellent success in certain fields of science – drawing, mathematics, reading, music, but at the same time they significantly lag behind in other subjects.
We should also mention avantism – a condition when an autistic child or adult is very gifted in any particular area. There are cases when autists could accurately reproduce a melody that they heard only once or quickly solve mathematical puzzles in the mind. The most famous autistic people in the world are Andy Kaufman, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen.
Types of autistic disorders
The most common types of autistic disorders are Asperger Syndrome and Rett Syndrome.
This form of autism is relatively mild, and its first symptoms appear in children after 6-7 years. Features of Asperger syndrome are:
- sufficient or high intellectual level in the child;
- normal speech skills, speech intelligibility;
- problems with speech volume and intonation;
- obsession in any particular lesson;
- impaired coordination of movements – awkward gait, uncharacteristic postures;
- self-centeredness and refusal to make any compromises.
An autistic patient with Asperger’s syndrome can lead a completely normal life – to successfully study, graduate from high schools, create a family. All this is possible only if the necessary conditions for development and upbringing were created for such a child initially.
This form of autism is severe and is associated with abnormalities in the X chromosome. Rett’s syndrome appears only in girls. Male children who receive this broken chromosome die in the womb. Rett syndrome occurs in 1 case per 10,000 girls, the characteristic clinical symptoms of this form of the disease are:
- complete isolation from the outside world;
- full development of the child up to a year, then a sharp inhibition, signs of mental retardation;
- slowing head growth after a year;
- loss of acquired skills and purposeful movements of limbs;
- frequent meaningless hand movements resembling washing;
- impaired coordination of movements;
- lack of speech.
Often, Rett syndrome is diagnosed as being paralleled with epilepsy or a delayed brain development. When making such a diagnosis, the prognosis is unfavorable, the disease is practically impossible to correct.
Autism diagnostic methods
External clinical signs of autism in a child of the first year of life are practically absent and only experienced parents who have more than 1 baby in the family manage to notice any developmental abnormalities. If there are already cases of autism in the family, then it is extremely important to carefully monitor the child and seek medical help in time if necessary. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the easier it will be for the child to adapt in the environment and society.
The main methods for diagnosing autism in children are:
- tests with special questionnaires;
- ultrasound of the brain – identifies damage and abnormalities in the structure of the brain that can provoke symptoms of the disease;
- EEG – detects epilepsy since autism can sometimes be accompanied by epileptic seizures;
- examination of the child by an otolaryngologist and hearing test – this is necessary to exclude a delay in the development of speech due to hearing loss.
Can autism be cured?
Parents whose children have been diagnosed with autism ask the doctor the same question – can this disease be cured? Autism is not treated, but with the help of methods of disease correction, you can significantly improve the condition of the child and help him/her adapt as much as possible in the world. Of course, parents need to work closely with teachers and perform routine activities for a long time, but the result of these efforts can bring great success.
A few recommendations for parents of autistic children:
- You must clearly understand that your child is not like the others;
- You should take maximum care to create a favorable environment for the child so that he or she can fully develop and exist in society – stress and constant changes in the world around the child can greatly aggravate his/her condition;
- You should regularly consult with specialists – a psychologist, speech therapist, psychotherapist.
Autism in young children is treated in stages. It is necessary to:
- form the skills of communicating with others;
- gradually, slowly and confidently develop speech in a child;
- learn to imitate the baby, carefully observe the slightest changes in his condition;
- timely eliminate behavioral disorders that are non-constructive – aggression in relation to oneself, fears, withdrawal into oneself;
- learn to play role-playing games;
- learn to make emotional contact.
Behavioral treatment of autism in children
Behavioral treatment is the most common direction in the correction of autism. For a period of time, a specialist observes the behavior of an autist in order to find out the peculiarities of the course of his/her illness and the patient’s reaction to a particular irritant. After that, certain incentives are selected individually to help correct the behavior of the child. For some kids, such an incentive is a toy, for others, a treat or a favorite pastime. With such incentives, the specialist reinforces the desired reactions in the child, that is, if he/she has performed what is required of him/her, then the baby receives his/her encouragement. Thus, contact develops, skills are acquired, actions are fixed, signs of behavioral disorders are eliminated.
Regardless of the degrees and types of autism, most children are still marked by impaired speech development, which prevents patients from expressing their desires and communicating with people around them. Regular individual lessons with a speech therapist allow achieving the correct construction of sentences and intelligibility of speech.
Acquisition of skills of self-care and being in society
Autistic children do not have self-care skills, they do not understand why they need to wash themselves daily, brush their teeth, dress, and adhere to the daily routine. To consolidate the necessary skills in a game form, the specialist uses cards to demonstrate the necessary daily actions in detail.
Specialists resort to the use of medicines only in cases of destructive behavior disorders that prevent the baby from feeling normal in society and developing fully.
Sedatives, psychotropic drugs, and antipsychotics should be used only in case of emergency, parents of an autistic child should understand that crying and mood swings are much better than deep self-care and complete apathy to what is happening around.
You should not give the child Glycine, Valerian tablets or sleeping pills without a doctor’s prescription – such actions can seriously harm the baby.
Autism or another disease?
The clinical signs of autism in children are similar to the symptoms of certain diseases, so it is important not to self-medicate, but to immediately seek medical help. Such diseases (with similar clinical signs) include:
- delayed psycho-speech development – has similar symptoms but can be corrected with timely medical attention and regular developing classes;
- hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder – children are restless, poorly concentrated, do not absorb new material, it is difficult for them to learn;
- hearing loss is a hearing impairment of a congenital or acquired nature. Due to the fact that the child does not hear well, he has a delay in speech development and difficulties in communicating with others, as a rule, the hearing aid helps to solve the problem;
- schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. A patient with schizophrenia is talking to himself/herself, aggressive, isolated, has hallucinations, impaired coordination of movements. Unlike autism, schizophrenia is successfully stopped by medications and responds well to treatment.
Parents whose children are diagnosed with autism should understand that this is by no means a sentence. Proper care of the baby, the creation and maintenance of a favorable family environment and regular classes with specialists help such a patient to grow up and be a full-fledged person, get an education and start a family.