ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. This disorder impacts upon the somewhat ‘social’ aspects of an individual, mainly how they act, interact and communicate.
Often children present signs of ASD before they are 3 years old, however diagnosing a child with ASD usually happens when they are slightly older.
When very young those with ASD rarely use other vocal sounds when not forming words, nor tend to rabble on during their speech.
As ASD individuals get older it is often noticed that there is some difficulty with maintaining eye contact with others, particularly when the other person is not familiar. However, occasionally ASD individuals may even ignore people who they have interacted with before.
ASD children appear to socialise more with younger or older children than those of the same age. Although as they appear disinterested in peers their own age, they will most often play alone.
Non-verbal language can be extremely difficult to interpret and as such the emotions of others are not understood which creates difficulties when it comes to empathy and initiating and participating in conversations.
As language development is delayed quirks in the English language may not be understood in the way it was intended. For example, ASD children are very literal so therefore may experience difficulties detecting sarcasm and other language quirks.
However ASD children do not compensate their delayed language development through observing the full picture. Often body language and facial expressions are completely ignored and only the verbal language is explored. It is worth noting that language development in ASD individuals is not restricted in any way as they get older, only that it takes those on the autistic spectrum longer to develop, so may experience the sarcastic tones in the English language at a later stage.
ASD individuals like a routine, so often compensate when the littlest change occurs. This is sometimes expressed in a tantrum, or through twisting and jerking their limbs when upset or excited. Similarly repetitive behaviour may be used instead, such as organising objects or opening and closing cupboards and turning lights on and off.
DSM-5 is often cited with the blueprint for identifying autism. It is regularly updated but focusses on social communication & interaction, repetitive behaviour, impact daily life, and have been present since early childhood. As with any psychological diagnosis, the symptoms of ASD must be present in multiple settings and must not be accountable to other developmental delays.
Honestly? We don’t really know yet.
Some researchers believe it is due to vulnerable genes being inherited or even a family history. Although no genes have been directly identified to explain ASD.
Other researchers believe it is environmental where those with ASD have been exposed to a trigger. Current explorations of the environmental triggers concern being born premature or exposed to alcohol or prescription medication when the individual was in the womb.
However whilst nothing has specifically explained the cause of ASD, many things have been ruled out. This includes the MMR vaccination, thiomersal (a preservative containing mercury that is used in some vaccines), nurture, and diet.
Many of the symptoms overlap with other conditions but this is taken into account with the diagnostic criteria of ASD.
Please contact a doctor if you are concerned about your child, especially if the same ASD-like symptoms are noticed in different situations.