Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

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What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental illness that impairs a person’s capacity for social interaction, communication, and acceptable behaviour. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1 in 68 children in the United States who have autism, and boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have the disorder.

Communication and social skills are impaired, and confined and repetitive behaviours like hand flapping and an obsession on sameness are hallmarks of autism. Many kids also have peculiar sensory reactions, so they might avoid bright lights or fail to realize if their clothes are twisted and rough.

Signs and symptoms of autism

a) Young children with autism

Early warning signs of autism in children include:

  • Ignoring their name and avoiding making eye contact
  • Refusing to grin when you do
  • Repetitive body gestures, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers, or rocking their bodies, being less talkative than other kids, repeating the same phrases, and becoming very agitated if they dislike a particular taste, smell, or sound

b) Older children with autism

Autism symptoms in older kids include:

  • Being unable to discern what others are experiencing or thinking
  • Having difficulty expressing their feelings
  • Liking a rigid schedule and becoming extremely irritated if it varies
  • Possessing an intense passion for various topics or activities
  • Becoming irate when asked  to accomplish something
  • Finding it difficult to make acquaintances or favoring to be by themselves
  • Taking everything extremely literally; they might not comprehend expressions like “break a leg”


Every autistic person experiences a unique diagnostic process. Pediatricians may occasionally use an autism screen to determine whether a child is at risk for the disorder. This quick yes-or-no test looks for indications of autism. The family may be sent to a professional for a diagnostic assessment if the child screens positively.

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Elsabbagh urged parents to keep thorough developmental records of their children’s growth and development because both direct observable information and parent reports about the child’s behaviour are used by specialists to make the diagnosis of autism.

“Some doctors would seek feedback from the child’s school, friends, and how they interact in the settings outside of their home,” she added, referring to older children. What they are attempting to do is gather and integrate data from many sources to determine whether the child in question has autism or, alternatively, whether there is a more general developmental delay present that is unrelated to autism.

In addition to autism, other conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, seizures, and depression may also be diagnosed by a full team of specialists, she said.

According to doctors, those who have specific genetic illnesses such fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex, and Angelman syndrome also frequently have autism.


Autism spectrum illnesses are incurable. However, there are educational and behavioural interventions that could aid in symptom reduction. Elsabbagh added that getting an early diagnosis is crucial to getting children with autism access to treatment.

For instance, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), one of the most popular therapies, employs rewards to motivate individuals with autism to improve beneficial behaviour and decrease detrimental behaviours. Parent-mediated interventions are another effective form of therapy that instructs parents on how to assist their children in a familiar setting, like the home.

According to a 2010 research in Pediatrics, children with autism who participated in the Early Start Denver Model, a two-year intervention that incorporates ABA and other therapies in a classroom setting, exhibited gains in their language and conduct.

According to Elsabbagh, “in actuality, behavioural techniques are ideal because we know that changing the child’s surroundings and interacting with them in various ways does change biological processes [in the brain].” It does influence how the brain develops in a way that will support and benefit their independence.

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Although medications can lessen symptoms like impatience, they do not treat the underlying symptoms of autism, such as communication difficulties. Risperidone and aripiprazole, two medications for autism that treat irritability, aggression, and mood swings, have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The long-term effects of these medications are uncertain, and specialists discover that many autistic children use many medications to treat other issues like hyperactivity or depression. According to a 2013 research published in the journal Pediatrics, approximately 65 percent of kids with autism had a prescription for a psychotropic medicine, a substance that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Furthermore, 15% of the children in the research had three or more prescriptions for these medicines, and 35% had prescriptions for two or more of them.

Elsabbagh stated that drug interventions “are by no means a replacement for the behavioural techniques.” They typically are seen as a complimentary strategy that, overall, fits into the child’s treatment plan, but they shouldn’t be used in place of therapies for children.

Additionally, there are a ton of complementary therapies and diets on the market that haven’t been clinically shown to benefit autistic people. According to Elsabbagh, “Parents may mistake these for alternatives and decide not to enroll their children in behavioural therapy.” “And that eliminates any opportunity the child could have to choose a more reliable option.”

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