Healthy Living

Autism: The Top 10 Questions

1 Is Autism Genetic?

While scientists are unsure of what triggers autism, it is considered that both genetics and environmental factors play a role. Studies suggest that autism does have a genetic basis. While no autism causing gene has been identified that can confirm the presence of this disorder, parents can still pass on this medical condition to their children. If a child inherits some unstable genes from the parent, it may interfere with their brain development, causing autism. Certain problems during pregnancy or delivery such as viral infections, defective genes, and metabolic imbalances disrupt the normal growth of the brain. Apart from that, environmental factors, such as exposure to harmful chemicals, can also make children susceptible to autism.

This means that although genes are the prime driver of autism, there is not a simple particular gene that can be blamed for autism. In many families, there seems to be a pattern of autism, further supporting the theory that the autism can be genetic. If your first child has autism, the possibility that the next child will be autistic is only 2-6%. If you have two children and both are autistic, the risk for the next child is around 35%. Similarly, identical twins are also more likely to develop autism. This concludes that autism can be genetic.

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2 Is Autism a Mental Illness?

Many people believe that autism is a mental disorder that needs to be treated with medications and other psychological therapies that treat depression or anxiety disorders, but actually the reality is different! Autism is not a mental illness in itself; it is a lifelong neurodevelopment disorder in which a person’s brain is developed differently from what’s normal, causing the disability. Though it is not a mental problem, it can lead to other mental problems during the lifetime. Autism is a spectrum disorder that leads to impaired social interaction, learning disability, loss of interest in activities, and abnormal behavior. Some people with autism may have an accompanying mental disability and other linked conditions, but autism is not a mental disorder in itself.

Autism is not a mental illness that is transient and develops with time. People with autism are born with the condition, and there is nothing one can do to cure it completely as it is possible with other mental illnesses and psychological disorders such as depression. There are some behavioral therapies, self-help skills, and education approaches that address some of the challenges associated with autism. Apart from that, parents also play a great role in improving the signs and symptoms of autism in their children.

3 Is Autism Dominant or Recessive?

Inheritance of traits, like a disease, depends on genes that are inherited and whether they are dominant or recessive. Since there is no one gene identified to be responsible for autism, it can’t be clearly concluded whether autism is dominant or recessive. Although studies suggest that there are definitely some genetic factors that play a role in deciding whether the child will develop autism or not, there is no strong evidence concluding that autism is a genetic trait.

Genetic connection is just one possibility. Many environmental factors such as surroundings, vaccines, diet, and other factors have also been suspected as triggers of autism. Moreover, it is also difficult to conclude which factor has resulted in autism. This complicates the situation even further. Hence, deciding whether autism is dominant or recessive is completely out of scope right now. This topic is still subjected to thorough research and analysis.

4 Does Autism Get Worse?

The worsening of autism completely depends on how a child responds to the treatments, therapies, and efforts of pulling them out of their abnormal behaviors, learning disabilities, stims, etc. There are many therapies available such as RDI, Speech Therapy, OT, and ABA that are followed to treat various spectrums of autism. Parents also try several dietary approaches to improve the quality of life for their autistic children and bring positive changes in them. While some children respond to these therapies and dietary approaches very well and get better with age, others become more aggressive and frustrated as the years pass. When children don’t respond to any therapies or dietary approaches, their symptoms may get worse.

Environment also plays a very crucial role in deciding whether a child will improve or not. An autistic person most often faces rejections. They face bullies in school and disrespect in normal life, which affects them emotionally. This emotional distress worsens the autism and leads to other psychological disorders over time. Hence, the worsening of autism depends on several factors such as quality of treatment the person is receiving, environmental factors, and how society approaches them.

5 Does Autism Cause Seizures?

Studies suggest that around one-third of individuals with autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy, a neurological disorder marked by recurring seizures, loss of consciousness, or convulsions. According to experts, some of the abnormalities of the brain that are linked with autism may also cause seizures. These abnormalities can disrupt neurons in the brain, causing changes in brain activity.

Neurons are specialized cells that process and transmit electrical and chemical signals to the rest of the body. When the activity of these neurons are disrupted or overloaded, it results in imbalances that cause seizures. Similar to autism, epilepsy also exists on a spectrum. The severity of seizure episodes varies widely from person to person. In fact, it has been found that 1 in 4 children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) develop seizures. So you can say that autism and seizures may relate to each other.

6 Can High-Functioning Autism Get Better?

The basic traits of High-Functioning Autism (HFA) cannot be cured, but many children with HFA usually grow into happy adults that are well-adjusted to society.

Many children with HFA get better with early specialized treatments and therapies that focus on managing behavior and imparting social skills. Treatments for high-functioning autism focus on addressing individual symptoms, rather than the condition as a whole. Some children may also be prescribed certain medications and supplements to help improve the symptoms associated with HFA such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, and more. If your child has HFA, your physician can suggest possible resources in your area that may work for the “special needs” of your child.

Parents and teachers also play a crucial role as social coaches to help children cope with the issues they are facing. No single therapy exists to help individuals with HFA. However, by following certain proactive strategies, such as self-management and self-care, the behavior of autistic children can be managed or altered to make their life easier. While self-management strategies focus on providing the skills necessary to self-regulate behavior, self-monitoring framework is designed to promote self-control and independence.

7 Is ADD a Form of Autism?

Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are related in many ways. They usually have some of the similar symptoms or even coexist at the same time. If a person has one of these conditions, it also alleviates the risk of having the other. While children with autism face major trouble paying attention, ADD usually affects social skills. Since the symptoms of autism and ADD overlap, it can sometimes cause a child to be wrongly diagnosed with one condition rather than the other. It has been found that children with ADHD are more likely to display the signs and symptoms of autism, such as being rejected by peers, being aggressive, getting into fights, experiencing communication and learning difficulty in school, and having problems with their siblings. Apart from that, certain other behavioral traits were also noticed such as mood disorders, disruptive behavior, language disorders, anxiety problems, and other psychiatric conditions.

If you are worried about which condition is affecting your child, talk to your doctor. It’s only the doctor that may decide which disorder is primarily responsible for your child's symptoms. If the child is not diagnosed clearly, he/she may actually have both conditions.

8 Is Autism and ADHD the Same Thing?

No, Autism and ADHD are two different disorders, but their symptoms generally overlap which often creates confusion among people. In fact, the same reason makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose the condition and come to a firm conclusion. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobehavioral disorder that affects around 3 to 5% of kids in the United States. This disorder makes it difficult for children and teens to concentrate, organize daily tasks, and listen to directions. On the other hand, autism is a developmental disorder, present from early childhood, which affects how a person communicates and interacts with other people. According to the estimates, 3 to 6 in every 1,000 kids has autism in the United States.

Both ADHD and autism may affect the ability of the child to stay focused, follow directions, and socialize with others. However, neither ADHD nor autism have a single symptom that confirms the diagnosis. Both of these conditions accompany a combination of symptoms and therefore, a professional evaluation is necessary to confirm whether the child is suffering from ADHD or autism. If you are also observing any of these symptoms in your child, it’s good to consult your doctor and ask for a referral to a psychologist or neurological disorder specialist.

9 When Is Autism Diagnosed?

Studies show that behavioral symptoms of autism can begin to show up as early as 6 to 12 months. However, professionals suggest that a definite diagnosis that confirms the disorder can’t be made until 18 months. This is because the signs and symptoms of autism can continue to appear or fade away until around 24 months. Professionals believe that during that time autism diagnosis can become stable. This means that some children can be diagnosed at around 24 months or even earlier. Such children may exhibit certain autism symptoms such as lack of eye contact and not engaging in social games. They usually play only in a highly repetitive fashion. Children with high-functioning autism cannot be diagnosed properly until they enter school and begin social interactions.

Researches show that parental instincts often tell them that something is wrong with their child. They are good at picking up on early signs of autism. Hence, if you are concerned about the same, consult a developmental pediatrician or psychologist who specializes in the disorder.

10 How Is Autism Diagnosed in Adults?

In order to diagnose autism, psychologists use behavioral checklists or take the help of questionnaires to record the observations of parents and other guardians. However, the common behavioral checklists that psychologists have designed to identify autism in children is not helpful for adults who often learn to hide their symptoms. Another challenge is that parents of adults are sometimes not available to fill out questionnaires about early childhood behaviors. As a result, many psychologists find it difficult to evaluate autism in adults. Because of these drawbacks, assessment of autism in adults relies highly on direct observation. Psychologists discuss the current challenges the patient is facing in life, this is to identify whether they are having general symptoms of autism such as difficulty communicating, social interaction, sensory issues, repetitive behavior, or limited interests. Apart from repetitive behaviors, some other conditions can also accompany autism in adults such as Parkinson's disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette syndrome.