What do we understand by Autism Spectrum Disorder? We have heard people saying their child has autism, let’s explore more about it.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder resulting from differences in the brain.The symptoms can start showing in children within the first 12 months of life. But it can be diagnosed later in life as well. This disorder affects all spheres of an individual's life.

It can be characterized by 3 main symptoms.
Since symptoms can be observed during the early stages of life, an important marker would be children, not achieving developmental milestones such as: smiling, talking, walking, etc according to the set timeline and limiting essential and daily functioningThey persistently struggle with social communication. This means that they have a hard time understanding social cues and engaging in verbal as well as non-verbal communication that as gestures and body language. This can present differently in each individual according to age, intellectual level, and language ability, among other factors. A lack of joint attention, seen in childhood is also manifested by a lack of pointing, showing, or bringing objects to show other people and share their interests with others. Language deficits can be in the form of a complete lack of speech, language delays, or even not understanding speech. There is also a lack of socio-emotional reciprocity. This could be seen in the form of not responding to their names, not making or maintaining eye contact, lack of facial expressions, not sharing thoughts and feelings, or having no interest in making an initiative to make friends or interact with peers.They frequently exhibit restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. This could include repeating the same words, same actions, and using the same objects in a particular manner (eg. tapping a hand on the table, parroting words). They have limited interests that come with a lot of intensity or focus. For instance, being strongly attached to a plastic bag. They have difficulty adjusting to changes, with respect to maintaining the same routine. Even minor changes can lead to them experiencing severe distress. They can also be sensitive to particular aspects of the environment they are in. For instance, they may experience overwhelming stress due to specific noises.Some of these fixated interests or routines may relate to apparent hyper- or hypo reactivity to sensory input. This can be seen in the form of extreme responses to specific very sounds or tactile sensations, fascination with lights or specific objects, and sometimes having an apparent indifferent reaction to pain, heat, or cold. Individuals with ASD may derive pleasure and motivation from these special interests which could potentially lead to education and employment.

They may also present motor deficits such as odd posture, being clumsy. During adulthood, they may face difficulties establishing independence because of their rigidity and difficulty coping with new situations. So, the psychosocial aspect of their life suffers a great deal since it’s difficult for them to live independently and gain employment.

There are 3 levels of severities based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. Individuals with ASD would require support according to how severe the case is. There are interventions in place for the well-being and development of individuals with autism. There are early intensive interventions, social skills training, occupational therapy, speech therapy, play therapy, music therapy, etc. They may also require medication to tackle other associated conditions that they might have. With a collaborative team effort of medical and mental health professionals, ASD can be managed well.

Every individual with Autism is different and would have their own set of needs and would require different kinds of support which can be understood and met with empathy and patience.