- Autism can range from mild to severe in different children.
- Autism can lead to other medical complications, such as epilepsy, sensory issues, cognitive impairment, mental and emotional issues, and tuberous sclerosis.
- Individual's with autism react to different stimuli; what may affect one individual may not similarly affect the other.
Since autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, there are a variety of different symptoms. Different children with ASD will have different reactions, symptoms, and complications on different levels. Typically, autism impairs social and communication skills; however, the severity of these impairments depend on where a person falls on the autism spectrum. In other words, autism can range from mild (high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome) to severe. In any case, ASD can be very challenging to deal with on its own. One should understand that there is a significant possibility that ASD can lead to other complications.
The additional complications that often accompany ASD can influence the patient's therapy and treatment, as well as add to the challenges of care taking. Some of the disorders that tend to accompany ASD are:
Seizure Disorder (Epilepsy)
Seizures, unfortunately, are a commonality among individual's with autism. Over 30% of people with ASD also have epilepsy, and will suffer from seizures at some point in their lives. The seizures will usually occur during childhood or adolescence. Seizures are a temporary moment of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and can present themselves in many different ways, such as erratic muscle movements, eye twitching, staring blankly, losing consciousness, and convulsions. Similar to ASD, the severity of epilepsy is also measured on a spectrum. To diagnose seizure activity, an EEG will be performed to detect the presence of abnormal brain activity.
The treatment of epilepsy typically involves anticonvulsant medicines that can help eliminate, or reduce the occurrence of seizures.
Many people with autism have a very unique response to different stimuli. This is due to difficulties in processing and integrating sensory information. An individual's vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste can all be affected. Even their sense of movement, called the vestibular system, and sense of position, called proprioception, can be affected. Some children may not seem to notice pain, the cold, or heat. Others may scream when lightly touched. In other words, they can sense the information, but perceive it much differently.
Asperger's syndrome, which is a high-functioning type of autism, usually results in average or above average intelligence. In many cases, these individuals will go on to be very successful, for example, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates. While people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s usually are very smart, most people with autism suffer from some form of cognitive impairment. Math and science, in many cases, is easier for those with ASD, while language, writing, and communication is more difficult. ASD makes it harder to recognize social cues, which can make it more difficult to succeed in school and standard learning environments.
Mental and Emotional Issues
People with autism are very prone to depression, anxiety, mood swings, and stress. In one study, 10% of children with autism had at least one episode of major depression. Understanding and recognizing mental and emotional issues that often accompany ASD is critical, as research shows that the presence of depressive symptoms is linked with less optimal long-term outcomes. Individuals with autism require intensive support system, as it can significantly reduce negative feelings.
It’s useful to know that many of the behaviors of ASD may actually be signs of anxiety or stress. These include being easily distracted, nail biting, acting out, repetitive actions, etc.
The link between tuberous sclerosis and autism is unclear, but ASD rates are much higher among individuals with tuberous sclerosis than those without the disorder. Tuberous sclerosis is a rare genetic condition that causes benign tumors to grow on the brain and other organs. Half of the people with tuberous sclerosis develop ASD. The correlation is thought to be, in the way, that the brain is connected around the temporal lobe.