What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colors.
People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety. Autism is part of the autism spectrum and is sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum disorder, or an ASD. The three main areas of difficulty which the people with autism share are sometimes known as the ‘triad of impairments’. They are:
1.Difficulty with social communication
2. Difficulty with social interaction
3. Difficulty with social imagination.
It can be hard to create awareness of autism as people with the condition do not look disabled parents of children with autism often say that other people simply think their child is naughty while adults find that they are misunderstood. All people with autism can benefit from a timely diagnosis and access to appropriate services and support.
Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (also referred to as Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a neurological disorder causing difficulties with taking in, processing and responding to sensory information from the environment and within your own body (visual, auditory, tactile, olfaction, gustatory, vestibular and proprioception). This can be Hypo Reactive or Hyper Reactive. For example: one child may show no sign of pain when they hurt themselves whilst another slightest touch can cause pain.
Sensory processing disorders cause children to have a distorted sense of their surroundings, which often interrupts their learning and exploration of the world around them. Sensory integration is our brain’s ability to interpret and respond to sensory information, and those with sensory processing disorder often have difficulty integrating and responding to this information.
Using sensory integration products is one key way to help a child with sensory processing disorder and help them in making sense of the world around them, these products are also ideal for children who do not have sensory processing disorder thus helping them to reach important developmental milestones.
Causes of Autism
Until recently, most scientists believed that autism is caused mostly by genetic factors. But groundbreaking new research indicates that environmental factors may also be important in the development of autism.
Babies may be born with a genetic vulnerability to autism that is then triggered by something in the external environment, either while he or she is still in the womb or sometime after birth.
It’s important to note that the environment, in this context, means anything outside the body. It’s not limited to things like pollution or toxins in the atmosphere. In fact, one of the most important environments appears to be the prenatal environment.
Prenatal factors that may contribute to autism:
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy, especially in the first 3 months
Nutritional deficiencies early in pregnancy, particularly not getting enough folic acid
The age of the mother and father
Complications at or shortly after birth, including very low birth weight and neonatal anemia
Maternal infections during pregnancy
Exposure to chemical pollutants, such as metals and pesticides, while pregnant
More research on these prenatal risk factors is needed, but if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, it can’t hurt to take steps now to reduce your baby’s risk of autism.
Signs and symptoms of autism in babies and toddlers
If autism is caught in infancy, treatment can take full advantage of the young brain’s remarkable plasticity. Although autism is hard to diagnose before 24 months, symptoms often surface between 12 and 18 months. If signs are detected by 18 months of age, intensive treatment may help to rewire the brain and reverse the symptoms.
The earliest signs of autism involve the absence of normal behaviors—not the presence of abnormal ones—so they can be tough to spot. In some cases, the earliest symptoms of autism are even misinterpreted as signs of a “good baby,” since the infant may seem quiet, independent, and undemanding. However, you can catch warning signs early if you know what to look for.
Some autistic infants don’t respond to cuddling, reach out to be picked up, or look at their mothers when being fed.
Your baby or toddler doesn’t:
• Make eye contact, such as looking at you when being fed or smiling when being smiled at
• Respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
• Follow objects visually or follow your gesture when you point things out
• Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
• Make noises to get your attention
• Initiate or respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
• Imitate your movements and facial expressions
• Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment
• Notice or care if you hurt yourself or experience discomfort
Developmental red flags
The following delays warrant an immediate evaluation by your child’s pediatrician:
By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions
By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions
By 12 months: Lack of response to name
By 12 months: No babbling or “baby talk”
By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving
By 16 months: No spoken words
By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that don’t involve imitating or repeating