Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) otherwise known as autism is a developmental disability that pauses significant challenges associated with communication, social interactions, and behaviors. It causes a person to develop monotonous behavioral patterns and mostly damages their social abilities with other individuals. The symptoms of ASD are often diagnosed during childhood before the age of 3.
Even though there is a prevalence rate for Kenya, it is evident that there has been an increase in autism among children in the country over time. Unfortunately, there is not enough support for people with autism in the country. A study conducted by the GeoPoll and Kaizora Institute in 2014 revealed that 74% of people with autism do not receive enough support from the government.
The following are the signs and symptoms of autism:
- Avoid eye contact with other people
- Embrace unique speech patterns such as using a robust-like tone
- Often repeating phrases
- Hardly respond to their names
- Not cooing or babbling to parents as an infant
- Difficulty in comprehending feelings or expressing their own
- Late development of speech skills
- Difficulty maintaining conversations
Still on the same, a person with autism may display the following unusual behaviors in addition to impaired communication:
- Becoming preoccupied with objects like toys and household objects
- Becoming highly devoted to a topic that appears to consume them such as planes, train timetables, or cars
- Arranging or lining up objects or toys in an orderly manner
- Taking part in repetitive motions such as rocking from one side to another
About 1 out of 10 individuals with autism exhibit signs of savant syndrome even though this condition also occurs in individuals with nervous system injuries or other developmental conditions.
Scientists have not revealed the exact cause of ASD, but research suggests that genes play a critical role alongside influences from the surrounding to affect a child’s development in ways that lead to ASD. Some risk factors identified through studies include:
- Having older parents
- Having a sibling with autism
- Having particular genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, and Rett syndrome increase the likelihood of developing ASD
- Deficient birth weight
Doctors often diagnose ASD by observing a person’s development and behaviors. ASD is normally diagnosed well by the age of two.
It is essential for concerned parents to seek out assessment immediately they witness strange behaviors by their children to make an early diagnosis and commence treatment as early as possible.
Official diagnosis in children is done in two ways:
First Stage: General Developmental Screening during Checkups
During checkups, doctors will screen children for developmental delays at their 9, 18, 24, and 30th months.
By the 24th month, the doctor will have known whether the child has autism or not and provide further recommendations.
Stage 2: Additional Evaluation
The second evaluation is conducted by a team of doctors that include developmental pediatrician, neuropsychologist, child psychiatrist/psychologist, and a speech-language pathologist.
The team evaluates:
- Language abilities
- Thinking skills and cognitive level
- Age-appropriate skills required to complete daily activities independently such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
Since autism is a complex health issue that may occur alongside other learning disorders or conditions, the comprehensive evaluation entails:
- Hearing test
- Blood test
Diagnosis in older children and teenagers
The symptoms of ASD in these children are first observed and recognized by parents and teachers.
They are then evaluated by the special education team at school who perform an initial evaluation and recommend further assessment by specialized doctors.
Unlike children where other people mostly parents, teachers, and relatives recognize their behaviors and commence assessment, adults have to recognize the abnormal behaviors themselves and seek assistance. In some cases, relatives help or friends help a person to realize he or she has a problem and encourage the person to seek medical attention.
In most cases, ASD symptoms in adults overlap with symptoms of mental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety.
Once the person visits the hospital, a team of experts would assemble and ask about:
- Sensory issues
- Communication challenges and social interaction
- Repetitive behaviors
- Restricted interests
Treatments and Therapies
Treatment commences immediately after diagnosis
Early treatment is crucial since proper care minimizes the difficulties a person experiences while helping them learn new skills and utilize their strengths.
However, no single treatment is said to be the best since people with ASD face a wide range of issues.
A doctor may use medicine to treat specific symptoms that are common with autism. A person with ASD may have problems with:
- Repetitive behavior
- Attention problems
- Anxiety and depression
The doctor may issue medications of these conditions alongside different behavioral therapies to help the person improve.
Behavioral treatments and interventions include:
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
- Occupational Therapy (OT)
- Speech Therapy
- Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
- Relationship Development Interventions
- Verbal Behavior