Autism Spectrum Disorder: What does it feel like to have autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that makes it hard to interact with people and can be hard to deal with.

A child with autism spectrum disorder

Autism presents with different symptoms and it can be challenging living with this condition. Each person with autism has a unique story and personal experiences which may be different from the experiences of others.

Also, living with a person who has autism spectrum disorder can affect an individual or a family because it takes much effort, finance, and time. This can cause a great deal of physical and emotional stress to a family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests respite care for those with autism to give caregivers and family members the needed break.

While daily life is often not easy for people with ASD and their families, having access to the right information and finding helpful resources and services such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can help relieve the stress and improve the quality of life.

This article will discuss what autism spectrum disorder means, its causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, complications, and possible preventive strategies.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction and communication. It is a "developmental disorder" because its symptoms appear mostly in the first two years of life.

However, this doesn't mean it cannot be diagnosed later in life (it can be diagnosed at any age).

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The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is a guide written by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing mental disorders, listed out the following signs and symptoms to help diagnose people with ASD:

  • Difficulty communicating and interacting with other people
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours
  • Having symptoms that hurt the individual's ability to function properly in school, work and other spheres of life

Autism is called a "spectrum disorder" because it is of different types and has apparent variations in the severity or intensity of symptoms that people experience. It can occur to anyone, irrespective of race, ethnic group or economic status.

Studies, however, have shown that it is about four times more common in boys than in girls.

Causes and risk factors for ASD

Scientists don't know the exact causes of autistic spectrum disorders. However, they have revealed that some factors can increase a person's risk of having ASD.

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Various factors play a role and can increase a child's risk of having the condition. The factors can be biological, environmental or genetic.

  • Scientists believe that genes are risk factors that can contribute to developing autism
  • People with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions such as tuberous sclerosis or fragile X syndrome have a higher chance of developing ASD
  • Children with a sibling that has the condition are more predisposed to having autism
  • Children whose mothers took certain prescription drugs like thalidomide and valproic acid have more tendency to develop ASD
  • Children born to older parents are also more likely to have autism
  • Premature babies or babies born preterm (before 26 weeks of gestation) may be at a higher risk of having autism spectrum disorder
  • Children with extremely low birth weight might also have a higher risk of ASD

Scientists are currently carrying out studies to determine whether certain factors such as medications, viral infections, exposure to air pollutants, or even complications during pregnancy can cause autism spectrum disorder.

Signs, symptoms, and diagnoses of ASD

It is usually not easy for doctors to immediately diagnose ASD because of so many reasons.

First, people with ASD do not have a different or unique feature that sets them apart from other people without the condition; thus, doctors will have to look out for certain developmental and behavioral traits.

There are no medical tests like blood tests to diagnose the disorder either. Also, the fact that ASD presents different signs and symptoms in different individuals can make it harder for a medical doctor to give a final diagnosis and conclude that the patient is autistic.

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People with ASD usually have problems with emotional, social and communication skills. They tend to exhibit repetitive patterns and may find it hard to change the daily activities they are used to

These signs and symptoms, which usually begin during early childhood and typically lasts throughout life, affect one's learning, reaction, and focus.

Autistic people might:

  • Find it difficult to interact with others and may not even have an interest in other people at all
  • Avoid eye contact with people and will want to be left alone
  • Find it difficult talking about their feelings, lack facial expression
  • Have trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • appear not to be aware when people are talking to them but would respond to other sounds
  • Not point at objects of interest or look when other people point at an object
  • Find it difficult expressing their needs
  • Repeat or echo words or phrases that someone said to them
  • Repeat actions multiple times
  • Find it hard adapting to new things
  • Easily lose skills they once had
  • React unusually to taste, smell, feel, look or sound
  • Appear not to understand simple questions or directions
  • React to social interaction in a strange way, such as being aggressive, disruptive or simply passive

Complications of autism

Autism spectrum disorder can cause further problems for the person with the disorder and the person's family. Moreover, since the condition disrupts social interactions and communication, it can cause:

  • Issues with school and with learning
  • Inability to live alone or independently
  • Problems with getting employed or staying employed
  • Stress for the family
  • Social isolation
  • Bullying and victimization

One of the major controversies with the development of autism spectrum disorder is whether there is a link between the disorder and the vaccines administered during childhood.

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Some people have shown concerns that ASD might be linked to children's vaccines. However, scientists have debunked such claims as extensive researches have been carried out in this area, and no reliable study showed a link between ASD and any of the vaccines.

The original study, which brought up the question years back, has been retracted as it was poorly designed and presented with questionable research methods.

Do not slack on giving your kids vaccinations as it prevents and reduces the risk of contracting severe disease conditions such as measles, whooping cough and many more.

Can autism be prevented?

Aside from avoiding certain risk factors such as not taking certain drugs during pregnancy, there is no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder. However, the condition can be managed and treated.

With early diagnosis, intervention therapies and techniques can be carried out to help improve language, behaviour and skills. Intervention can be helpful irrespective of age. Also, it can help children learn to function well.

Aside from behavioural, psychological and educational therapy, medications might also be administered to help deal with anxiety, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and repetitive behaviour in a person with ASD.

Show love to children with an autism spectrum disorder. If your child or sibling has this condition, you should protect and love them. Awareness programs about this disorder should also be created to teach people to treat these people with respect.

The autistic shouldn't be treated with disrespect or disdain. Also, do not bully, victimize or isolate them.