Identifying Autism in Children

Autism is usually congenital and is manifested in children between 18 months and 3 years old.

How to identify autism in children

An estimated 1 in 150 children of school age could present an autism spectrum disorder.

The first symptoms are usually the child loses speech, does not look others into the eyes, seems to be deaf, has obsession with certain objects, or shows complete disinterest in social relations with others.

    1 Definition.

The Confederation for Autism in the UK defines autism as part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a complex set of disorders that affect development of the nervous system and brain functioning, particularly in aspects related to the processing of information coming from social stimuli.

    2 Causes.

All the experts agree on the same thing: the cause, or causes, are yet to be discovered. Clearly this is not a single biological cause, but you have to consider several factors that may be involved. In most cases hereditary factors must be considered. However, genes alone can not explain all the variations that occur within the spectrum of autism. We must take into account the interaction between the genetic potential and biological environment before and during birth.

In any case the evidence of biological and organic casual mechanism in autism is overwhelming. It has been shown that there is no causal relationship between attitudes and actions of parents and mothers and the development of autism.

Dr. Eduardo R. Hernández González, a pediatrician and child behavior therapist, mentions some theories about the origin of autism:

  •     Genetic theories. Initially considered a mechanism of recessive autosomal transmission, is currently thought that there are less than 10 genes that act multiplicatively. The theory also notes the so-called fragile X syndrome, ie the lack of substance in the distal end of the long arm of the chromosome as cause of the autistic syndrome.
  •     Neurobiological Theories. There is talk of abnormalities in neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin that is increased in children with autistic syndrome that alters brain functioning. Other research talks about changes in the cerebellum, alterations in brain volume in the cerebral cortex and the limbic system.
  •     Psychological theories. The socio-affective theory is that autistics lack constitutive components, which prevents them to interact with others emotionally; The cognitive theory says that cognitive deficits are due to a condition that is called metarepresentational, which is enables children to develop simulated play and can attribute mental states with content to others; The affective and cognitive theory, which posits that social and communication difficulties are rooted in a primary affective deficit that is closely related to cognitive deficits.

    3 Characteristics of autism.

All people with autism share different characteristics that define these disorders. In general, their interaction skills with others are very different from the usual. In some cases they may present an important social isolation, or not show much interest in relating to others. However, at other times they can try in a strange way, without really knowing how, without taking into account the reactions of the other person. On the other hand, they often have impaired verbal skills and nonverbal communication, which can range from not using any language to fluent language skills, but do not know how to use them to maintain two-way communication.

    4 symptoms of childhood autism.

There are some typical symptoms that can occur between 18 and 36 months:

  • Apparent deafness, does not respond to calls and indications. Seems to hear some things and not others.
  • Does not pursue members of the family around the house, nor extends its arms from the crib to grab you. Seems to ignore you.
  • When collected from the crib or the park, does not smile or is glad to see the adult.
  • Does not point the finger and look at the adult to check that the latter is also looking where he pointed.
  • Does not point the finger to share experiences or to ask.
  • Has difficulty with eye contact, almost never does it, and when it does, there are times when it seems to look through, as if nothing is standing before him.
  • Does not look at the people and what they are doing.
  • When it falls, it does not cry and does not seek comfort.
  • It’s too independent.
  • Reacts disproportionately to some stimuli (it is very sensitive to certain sounds or textures).
  • Does not respond when called by name.
  • Prefers to play alone.
  • Does not say goodbye.
  • Can not play with toys.

From 36 months on, some behaviors are different from the above:

  • Tends to ignore children of his age, does not play with them or seek interaction.
  • Presents a repetitive gameplay and uses objects inappropriately, eg constantly rotates objects, plays with bits of paper in front of his eyes, aligns objects etc.
  • It can make stereotyped or repetitive movements such as hand-flapping, hopping, rolling… tiptoeing.
  • Lack of language, or it is repetitive and without apparent meaning with inappropriate voice tone. Does not say things that used to say before.
  • Does not imitate.
  • Avoids eye contact and touch.
  • Seems comfortable when he is alone and has trouble accepting changes in his routine.
  • Has unusual attachments to certain objects.
  • Has many tantrums.
  • He’s in his own world.

It is a cause of absolute alarm (total need for specialist assessment) if:

  • There’s no babbling or gestures for interaction within 12 months.
  • Does not say single words within 16 months.
  • Does not say full sentences at 24 months.
  • Any regression or loss of skills acquired at any age.

    5 Treatment.

Currently there is no cure for autism. However, there are factors that will have an important impact on the development of the person and on their quality of life. It is essential that the diagnosis is made early so that the child receive appropriate early intervention. Educational and community resources should be appropriate to their individual needs and should have a support network to facilitate their social participation.

People with autism continue to develop and learn throughout their lifetime. The characteristics that define them do not disappear upon reaching adulthood. Thus, the quality of life of the person and their family will be influenced by the accessibility to appropriate interventions and supports that meet their individual needs, and maximize their learning opportunities, social inclusion and personal development.

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