Until recently, very little research had been done on what causes autism. With rates of autism diagnosis skyrocketing, however, a lot more research has been done on the what causes autism as well as preventative treatments. Unfortunately, while there is no clear, definitive answers to our questions about autism we are learning more about the condition every day.
While we have lot of questions about this condition,one of the things we know for sure is that the best way to get ahead of the disease is to diagnose it as early as possible. Multiple studies have shown that an early diagnosis gives a child access to a lot of services that can be used to treat this condition. The sooner a patient is able to start treatment, however, the more likely he or she is to respond to treatment. While there is no known cure, it is important to realize that many people with this condition are able to live very fulfilling lives. Getting an early diagnosis is key to getting a child the proper treatment so that he or she can maximize his or her potential.
Because of this, a lot of research has been done to identify a set of conditions that indicate a child has autism. These symptoms and signs are simply indications of the condition, however. A child that displays one or more of these signs should be evaluated by a pediatrician as soon as possible. Only a medical professional can give a diagnosis of autism.
Early Signs of Autism
One of the more difficult things about diagnosing autism is that there is no definitive set of symptoms that always lead to a diagnosis of autism. There are, however, a number of signs of the disease in infants and children that lead to a diagnosis. While there are a number of additional factors that will cause a doctor to give a diagnosis of autism, the following tests are part of each well-baby screening. Failing one of these will usually lead a pediatrician to order further tests, but failing several of these tests strongly indicates a finding of autism. The following list of signs of autism in children has been adapted from autismspeaks.org
- Smiling by six months. Babies should smile and exhibit other joyful expressions by this age. At this point, it is not necessary to mimic these expressions; it’s only necessary that they start showing these expressions.
- Back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles and/or other facial expressions by nine months. Babies should be able to mimic and show expressions in response to a variety of stimuli by this point.
- Babbling, pointing, showing, waving, and reaching by 12 months. By one year, a baby should be making spontaneous sounds such as ma-ma-ma. Actual words are not yet important. In addition, he or she should be interacting with people and objects by reaching for or pointing to them.
- Speaking words by 16 months. Single words, such as mama, dada, eat, etc. are expected by this date.
- Speaking meaningful, two-word phrases on their own by 24 months. These phrases should be generated in response to the child’s environment. For example, a child should ask for a toy or express a need such as being hungry or tired. Simply repeating phrases or speaking random strings of words would not be considered passing.
In addition, any child that appears to regress by losing speech or social skills at any age before three years will merit an evaluation for autism.
Later Signs of Autism
As a child reaches pre-school age, many of the common symptoms of autism will become more apparent. According to http://www.autism-pdd.net/ these signs include, but are not limited to:
- Sustained odd play such as spinning toys or repeating the same action such as pressing a button or moving a part in the same way for hours.
- Uneven gross and fine motor skills. For example, a child may have issues walking in a straight line, but be able to write his or her name neatly.
- Non-responsive to verbal cues and/or making little or no eye contact An autistic child may seem to be ignoring those around him or her when spoken to.
- Abnormal resistance to changes in routine. While all toddlers and pre-schoolers will occasionally throw a tantrum over a change in their schedule, an autistic child will insist on a number of small details being the same. For example, it is not uncommon for an autistic child to eat breakfast only from the same set of dishes at the same spot at the kitchen table.
- Noticeable physical over or under activity. Extreme hyperactivity is not uncommon.
- Tantrums and other displays of extreme distress for no or minor reasons.
- Speech and language absence or delays. Inappropriate laughing and giggling. Repeating words or phrases instead of using normal language.
- Abnormal ways of relating to people, objects and events. Autistic children will demonstrate an inappropriate attachment to objects.
While it may seem as if these are relatively simple tests, it is important to have a child who is exhibiting any of these signs to be evaluated by a medical professional. Individually, each of these symptoms or signs can indicate a variety of issues, including several different types of developmental delays. For this reason, it’s important not to simply assume that a child showing one or more of these signs has autism until he or she is evaluated by a medical professional. In addition to looking at the medical and developmental history of the child, a doctor will also be able to order genetic tests that looks for certain chromosomal markers that can indicate an increased likelihood for autism. Because this is such a complicated condition, however, a diagnosis will often take several visits to multiple specialists.
What is Autism Caused By?
Because a diagnosis of autism is so devastating, many parents of autistic children have demanded to know what causes the condition. While no one single cause has been identified, there are several different factors that have been put forward as possible culprits. It is important to realize that these causes are really only contributing factors to this condition. Simply being exposed to one of the things on this list does not mean that child will automatically contract the disease.
One of the most famous theories put forth about a possible cause of autism is childhood vaccines. While the dozens of vaccines given to children are responsible for saving millions of lives, a very small number of now discredited scientific studies showed a possible link between childhood vaccines and autism. Today, hundreds of studies and papers have proven that vaccines do not cause nor leave children more vulnerable to autism.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of parents who claim that they first noticed symptoms and signs of autism in their children within hours, days, or weeks of their child receiving a vaccine. It is important to realize, however, that the testing timetable for autism symptoms closely follows the standard vaccine schedule. It is by far more likely that parents simply were made aware that their children were displaying signs at their regular well-baby appointments.
There are no vaccines that cause autism, and choosing not to vaccinate a child because of the misguided fear that they will get autism is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.
Parenting and Other Social Factors
One of the earliest and now largely discredited hypothesis on the cause of autism was that it was created by neglectful parenting. In fact, the disease was originally referred to as cold-mother syndrome since it was believed that children with autism had the condition because they were not shown enough affection by their mothers. Fortunately, many scientific studies have shown that this is simply untrue. Autism is not caused by a mother or father doing something wrong or not showing enough affection.
While there is no single gene that definitively causes autism, there are several genetic markers that increase a person’s chances of having the condition. A genetic test can look for these signs, but it is important to realize that just because these markers are present, a person will not necessarily have autism. In the same way, it is important to note that having relatives with autism does not guarantee that a person will have the condition, but it can increase their odds.
Many recent studies have focused on possible environmental factors that can cause or increase the odds of a child developing the condition. Multiple studies have looked at everything from pesticides to BPA (a chemical in some plastics) as possible causes of autism. Many researchers have hypothesized that the recent increase in the number of people diagnosed with this condition must be the result of change in the environment in which the children are raised.
The problem with many of these studies is that there is really no way to isolate the substance being tested from other possible causes of autism. For example, a study on BPA was unable to control for the diet, toys, and other factors that the children being studied consumed and played with in their daily lives. Therefore, it was difficult to conclude that BPA was a cause of autism. Similar studies of other substances have had nearly identical problems.
One of the few definitive things that is known about autism is that the age of a child’s parents at the time of his or her conception can affect their chances of contracting the condition. Mothers over the age of 35 and fathers over the age of 55 are more likely to have a child with autism than younger parents. Having older parents only seems to increase a child’s chance of getting autism by 2%, however, leading many researchers to conclude that this is only a minor factor in the overall causes of autism.
Autism research is only at its beginning, and there is more being discovered about this condition everyday. Determining what causes autism is difficult, and all we really know is that there is not a single cause for this affliction.
If you believe that a child is afflicted with this condition, it is critical to have him or her evaluated as soon as possible by a medical professional. Being diagnosed means that a child can have access to a variety of treatment programs and special services that will help him or her to deal with this affliction