Autism: Characteristics, Prevalence And Management

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by social reciprocity and communication deficits. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), autism is categorized under “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD) along with Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDDNOS). The first medically documented case of autism was recorded in 1940s by Leo Kanner in the USA and by Asperger in Austria; the disorder gained importance only in the 1980s.

Etiology and prevalence

The etiology of autism is currently elusive, although researchers put forth several theories ranging from genetic inheritance to the influences of environment-gene interaction on brain development. A very recent report indicated that a few years back the global number of autistic cases was 52 million, which amounted to a prevalence of 7.6 cases per 1000 children or 1 child per 132.

Clinical features of autism

The onset of autism is usually before 3 years of age but is not diagnosed until the child shows signs delayed language abilities nearing the age of 2 years. The symptoms of autism can be divided into core symptoms and secondary/comorbid symptoms. The core clinical features are obsessive-compulsive interests and social-communication deficits while the secondary symptoms, which are observed in up to 50% of the children with autism, include aggressiveness, intellectual disabilities, hyperactivity, disruptive behavior, dangerous behavior, and other behavioral problems. Studies show that children with autism eventually start speaking by 6 or 7 years of age and as adults may even be able to function with near normal communication abilities, depending on the severity of the disorder during childhood. Regressive autism is another type of the disorder that is characterized by normal intellectual and language development up to 15-30 months of age, followed by rapid onset of autistic symptoms.

Diagnosis and management

Autism is diagnosed using the semi-structured research and clinical questionnaire ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) and ADI-R (Revised Autism Diagnostic Interview). Differential diagnosis is performed to differentiate autism from PDD-NOS and Asperger syndrome using the criteria given in DSM-5. Autism is not treatable but can be managed with several intervention therapies such as parent-raining intervention, Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) intervention, cognitive behavioral intervention (CBT) program and occupational therapy/sensory integration (OT/SI) interventions.

Conclusion

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by social reciprocity and communication deficits with unknown etiology. The quality of life for such individuals as adults depends on the severity of the disorder during childhood. It cannot be cured but can be managed using various interventional therapies.

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