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Autism is characterized by an inability to socialize and communicate with others. No wonder why it is such a difficult disease to treat. However, over the years, several strategies have been developed to improve the life of patients and their families.

Autism nowadays

There are certain diseases that are difficult to describe, to classify, to treat, to cure and to live with. Autism is one of them. People suffering from autism are usually under or misdiagnosed, but even when diagnosis is correctly done, it is very difficult to cope with an illness that is hard to understand for both the patient and the family.

Nowadays, there are several approaches to treat patients with autism thanks to better diagnostic strategies. It is possible now to start treatment at a early age, improving the abilities of the child with autism and avoiding other problems, related to this disease, such as depression and self-injury.

What is autism?

Autism refers to a diverse group of disorders known in conjunction as “autism spectrum disorders” (ASD). 

This disease has a very strong genetic component, meaning that it is caused by a genetic alteration that is inherited from parents to children.

A specific gene related to the disease has not been identified though, and it has been very difficult for geneticists to completely understand how autism is inherited and which genes are involved in the development of the disease.

Autism is also caused by environmental factors.

It is known that children of women that were under treatment with antiepileptic medication during pregnancy have a higher risk of being autistic. Vaccination has also been a focus of concern regarding autism development; however, there is plenty of evidence that has established no relation between vaccination and the risk of autism.

The symptoms of autism start to develop during childhood, before 13 years of age.

Some of these include problems with social interaction and communication: children with ASD usually avoid eye contact, they stare into space and ignore people around them, they get upset very easily, especially when their routine is disturbed and they show repetitive behaviours. It is not common for them to have friends and they don’t pay attention to other people’s feelings; sometimes, children with autism also show aggressive behaviour that can harm themselves and others.

Apart from this, autistic children can also develop neurological symptoms, including seizures, insomnia or abnormal sleeping patterns and movement disorders that are detected in their impairment to perform tasks such as writing or riding a bike.

Diagnosing autism

The American Psychiatric Association(APA) is the organization that sets the parameters to diagnose autism in the U.S.

According to APA, autism is classified into three types: autistic disorder (AD), Asperger syndrome (AS) and pervasive (generalized) developmental disorders-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

These classification sounds complicated but it has really improved the diagnosis of ASDs. Depending on the symptomatology and the age of the patient when symptoms are first detected, is the type of autism that the child will be diagnosed with. For example, kids with Asperger syndrome, contrary to those suffering from autistic disorder, have normal language development but share similar features of AD, including the tendency to be alone all the time and to be focused on just one thing or situation; they have a hard time understanding jokes and they usually follow very strict rules or routines.

PDD-NOS is diagnosed when the child shows some autistic symptoms but does not meet the full criteria for an autism diagnosis.  

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Brentani, H., et al. (2013). "Autism spectrum disorders: an overview on diagnosis and treatment." Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria 35: S62-S72
  • Lai, M.-C., et al. "Autism." The Lancet 383(9920): 896-910
  • Miles, J. H. (2011). "Autism spectrum disorders: A genetics review." Genet Med 13(4): 278-294.
  • Photo courtesy of melody hansen by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/melodygates/2441928291
  • Photo courtesy of Lance Neilson by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/wactout81/4846820954

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