ASD can manifest in early stages of childhood, usually emerging between 2 to 3 years of age and can last throughout their lifetime. The number of children affected is slowly growing throughout the years. In fact, in a research paper by Dr. Daniel Moore (2005) “Holistic Approach to Treat Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Moore wrote that before 1980, one in every 2,500 children has autism, whereas today, it has been considered as one of the fastest growing developmental disorder affecting children in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016) notes that at least one in every 68 children has autism. Moreover, studies have also revealed that one in 42 boys suffer from ASD, while one in every 189 girls are diagnosed with ASD. In other words, ASD is 4.5 times more common among for boys, than girls.
As it slowly and unnoticeably develops in children, affecting the precious developmental milestones of their childhood, it continues to be a major concern because there is no known cure for autism. However, there are various ways and intervention that have proven, to improve ASD.
Identifying and Understanding Autism
While it can happen to anyone, ASD is a group of developmental disorders that can vary from one child to another. It may be characterized according to the degree of difficulty they show in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors or interest, and some leisure activities. The repetitive behaviors may include:
- Repeating actions
- Overly focused on objects
- Lasting or intense interest in certain topics or things
In terms of social interaction or communication, it may include:
- Feeling upset, even due to the smallest change in routine
- Trouble in adapting when a routine is changed
- Little or inconsistent eye contact
- Less interest to look or listen to others
- Rarely enjoys sharing or engaging
- Responds unusually when angry, distressed or being affectionate
- Fails to respond or slow in responding when trying to gain their attention
- Shows difficulty when engaged or engaging in a conversation
- Often engrossed to talk about a particular topic or a favorite subject
- Echolalia or reiterating what they hear/repetition of phrases or words
- Having an unusual tone of voice
- Trouble in understanding others point of view
- Difficulty in having the ability to predict or slow in understanding others
Other problems that may occur are: sensitivities or irritability against light, noise, clothing, or temperature, and problems in sleeping and digestion, gastrointestinal problems, and even food allergies or intolerance.
After years and years of studying by other experts, they have also identified the signs and other markers that may occur during the early onset of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, 2017).
During the span of 6 to 12-month markers, the following signs may be:
- Infrequent eye contact
- Not responding when name or attention is called
- Does not show response to smiles from others
- Social and emotional passivity
- Fixation on objects
And by 12 months:
- Poor or no eye contact
- Not responding when name is called
- Poor imitation behavior
- No babbling
- No gesturing
By 16 months:
- No single word uttered
- Not pointing at things, objects
- Not showing interest or an effort to share
By 24 months:
- No sign of spontaneous two-word phrases
- Loss of any language or social skills at any age
It is important to note that there are also some interesting areas of strengths, which children with ASD have, such as:
- Having an above-average intelligence (46 percent of children with ASD show this uniqueness).
- Ability to learn, remember, and process detailed pieces of information for a long time
- Strength in learning through visuals and listening
- Shows excellence in academic subjects like math, science, or even in the creative like music or art
Learning the Types of ASD
The word ‘spectrum’ is used due to the different signs and symptoms that can be found in individuals with ASD. There are three different types: (1) Autistic disorder, (2) Asperger’s syndrome, and (3) Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
Autistic Disorder, also referred to as classic autism, is what most people think of, when they hear ‘autism.’ It shows much more intense signs and symptoms, compared to the other types. People with this type may experience language delays, significant challenges in socializing and effectively communicating with others.
Asperger Syndrome shows milder symptoms compared to autistic disorder. Most of the time, people with Asperger do not face any issues when it comes to their speech or intellectual abilities. However, they mostly face social challenges and display unusual behaviors and interests.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder (not otherwise specified), also known as, atypical autism, is also another type of ASD. A person with PDD-NOS usually suffers from fewer ASD signs and symptoms. They may typically be challenged in socializing and communicating with others.
Knowing the Causes and Risks Factors
Up to this day, specific causes of ASD are still unknown, however, there are several different factors that can contribute to a child to develop autism. This may due to environmental factors, or biologic and genetic factors, which can result in one of the multiple types I mentioned earlier.
Researchers and scientists believe that genetic makeup or genes are one of the root factors that may increase the risk of having ASD, and other conditions as well. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health stated that at least 20 percent of children diagnosed with ASD either have down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis, among others. Other factors doctors and experts have explored are are family medical conditions, parental age, and complications during birth or pregnancy.
The availability of medical tests that can particularly identify or diagnose a person with autism has not been developed until today. Instead, physicians and psychologists conducted various evaluation tests for diagnosis. Doctors look through a child’s behavior and development and are somewhat able to diagnose children by the age of 2 years. They often undergo two stages for the diagnosis. The first one includes the general development screenings – in this process, doctors check for family medical history (any family member who has ASD), signs of ASD behaviors, ask if the child was born prematurely or any other problems during birth. The observations of the parents are crucial for this process. The second stage may be done by a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist/psychiatrist, or a speech pathologist to run their own course of specialty in evaluating the child. They may asses thinking skills, language abilities, and other skills or activities that match or suit the child’s age. Blood tests and hearing tests may also be conducted to have a thorough evaluation.
Another screening instruments that is available, is a Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers or M-CHAT. According to Autism Speaks (2017), it “is a list of informative questions about your child. The answers can indicate whether he or she should be further evaluated by a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist, or psychologist.” On the other hand, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (2017) also suggested the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) for children 24 months and above. However, they firmly advise that these are solely screening instruments that need to be validated and fully assessed by specially trained individuals who know about this complex disorder. It is also important to know that diagnosis of ASD for older children and adults run differently.
Turning to Natural Remedies
There may have been no cure officially for autism, but there are several early intervention therapies that we can try for people with ASD. These intervention therapies have been proven to show improvement in the child’s cognitive skills and language abilities (Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, 2017):
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that focuses on the child’s verbal behavior and pivotal response
- Developmental Individual Relationship-based (DIR) or Floortime Model,
- Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped children (TEACCH), and
- Interpersonal synchrony
Natural remedies to ease ASD symptoms and signs
- Epsom salt baths. Adding a cup of Epsom salt or magnesium sulfate in bath water, can help individuals to have a better sleep at night. Magnesium has a calming effect, while the sulfur is beneficial for detoxification.
- Casein-free, Gluten-free and Soy-free diet. Children with ASD usually suffer from digestive problems, food allergies or intolerance. Going to this kind of diet is still in the midst of an extensive research to further prove that doing this will greatly help along the way. Gluten is usually found in wheat, barley, or rye, while casein is found in milk and other dairy products. As other children may be susceptible to particular digestive issues, gluten is actually one of the major causes for a child to have a leaky gut, due to its impact on zonulin production.
Mind-body therapy. In a research paper by Rachel Atchley and Sarah Hourston (2017) “Autism and Mind-BodyTherapies: A Systematic Review,” it is stated there that mind-body therapies like yoga and Nei Yang Gong (also known as Dejian) are effective for children with ASD. Children doing yoga showed improvement in imitation behavior and receptive skills, while they also exhibited progress in self-control measures and temper outburst.