Patients who are diagnosed with autism have certain challenges, such as having difficulty in learning language, as well as communication, and an incapability of understanding body language and expressions. They are uncomfortable in new social surroundings and with social behavior, in general. Autistic patients tend to enter a loop of certain behavior, and they get upset if someone tries to interrupt that repetitive behavior. The symptoms and their severity vary from patient to patient. They may also incline to self-destructive habits.
It is usually noticed in children of 6 to 12 years of age. It is a group of behavioral symptoms that include hyperactivity, difficulty with communication, social interaction, obsessive, impulsive nature, and repetitive behavior. These children may also face sleep disorders and restlessness, which are normal at that age, but if you see any behavioral changes compared to other kids of similar ages, then it is the time to approach a specialist doctor.
This can be a hereditary disease, which runs in close relatives.
Factors that have a role in autism include:
- Premature birth
- Babies having lower birth weight than the required scale
- A mother of a child has smoking habits or has smoked or taken drugs during pregnancy
- Chemical imbalances in the brain
Symptoms of Autism:
- Inattentive, does not seem to listen and usually ignores people and happenings around
- Constantly blabbering with meaningless words
- Constantly asking questions
- Constantly fidgety and restless
- Constantly hyperactive
- Self-harming behavior
- Loss of interest in things very quickly
The above symptoms can be classified into the following patterns, including:
- Behavioral - compulsive behavior, repetitive movements, hurting oneself, avoiding eye contact, ignoring happenings, inflicting wounds on self, repeating actions and words, impulsive nature, not enjoying social interaction
- Developmental - Avoidance of eye contact, delay in onset of speech, delay in overall learning in comparison to other children
- Muscular - weak gross motor skills, problem in weight balancing
- Cognitive - limited thinking ability, poor attention span, shows substantial and intense interest in a limited number of things
- Psychological - difficulty in understanding others' emotions, as well as expressions
- Speech - speech disorders, slurred and very slow speech, usually with an abnormal tone of voice
- Emotionless - lack of empathy, anxiety, or sensitivity
Types of the disorder:
- Predominantly Inattentive Type
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
- Combined Type
Tests and Diagnosis:
If the child tested for autism tested positive for the disease, the doctor usually suggests the parents of the particular patient to consult a neurosurgeon.
Medication, educational support, and advice to the parents on how to handle the situation with this kind of medical amenity through psychological therapies can help. Nevertheless, it is a challenging task for parents to look after a child with autism.
Allergies and autism are two different entities that have different effects on us. However, if neglected for a considerable amount of time while treating the diseases, allergies may complicate the disorder, since the kids are diagnosed after years of demonstrating the signs. Autism can be genetic, and patients are prone to allergies or having a family history of autism, increasing the chances of autism developing.
Nutrient deficiencies found in autism cases include:
- Omega 3 fatty acids – these type of fatty acids are not manufactured by the body on their own, so you have to consume them from an external source
- B complex vitamins – these are pivotal in proving proper vitamins and helping the metabolism in the brain for proper functioning
- Zinc – slow growth and attention issues may be helped with the proper amount of zinc
- Calcium – Bone development may be hindered by a lack of calcium
Autism will last for a lifetime. The patients suffering from autism can get help from the medicinal treatment, interventions, and therapies, which will result in reducing the effects and improve the quality of life. The treatment protocol gives positive results, but the disorder is not curable. People with autism find it hard to control their emotions. They can have unexplained crying spells, can throw tantrums, keep ranting, and have frequent outbursts. They can also have physically aggressive outbursts, leading to inflicting wounds on self and caretakers, including through head banging, hurting themselves, hair pulling, self-biting, and so on. The tendency to lose control can be quite common.
As per various studies, the following disorders have been identified with autism; the degree of occurrence varies from individual to individual.
1. Genetic Disorders
In some children, autism has lead to serious issues, like improper brain development. These genetic disorders include Angelman Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and chromosome 15 duplication syndrome, as well as others. Some of these syndromes have characteristic features with family histories, in either of the parents or a close relative, which prompts the doctor to refer to a geneticist or neurologist for further tests and diagnosis.
2. Gastrointestinal (GI) Disorders
GI disorder is one of the common medical conditions that autism patients suffer from, due to their restricted diet. Some of them are mentioned below:
Autism patients suffer from a behavioral and psychological disorder. This makes it difficult for them to communicate and express their pain, which in return increases the pain that triggers their behavioral changes. The above mentioned GI disorders can be treated with dietary changes.
It is a sudden range of activity in the brain that affects the behavior of the individual. Sometimes, with autism patients, it is difficult to diagnosis seizures, because of their behavioral disorder. Epilepsy is diagnosed in almost one-third of the autism patients; it can be controlled with proper treatment. There can be MRI scans, CT scans, Doppler scans, etc., to check the brain activity and patterns.
4. Sleep Problems
Sleep difficulties are the most common issues faced by patients suffering from autism. Either too much or too little sleep can be seen.
5. Sensory Issues
Unusual stimuli are noticed in victims who have autism. They have difficulty processing sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and movement. It is either under-responsive or hypersensitive.
Pica is usually associated with small children eating things that are not edible, such as chalk, brick, and plastic, etc. If the patient has these tendencies, then their blood will be tested for the presence of lead.
Self-Injurious Behavior or SIB refers to behaviors that the individual inflicts upon himself/herself that can result in physical injury. Patients with this tendency need to be monitored very carefully, as there is no particular reason as to why they may act up and injure themselves. SIB can cause irreversible injury or death if the behavior is not stopped. This disorder can progress with age, if not treated earlier.
SIB can, under highly specific stimulus situations, burst out after long periods without a show of any problematic behaviors. The psychoanalysis therapy, such as the following, may be advised on a continuous basis.
- Focusing: The patient is asked to focus on the activity they like that can increase their attention span. This will also enhance their learning ability. The activity should be non-threatening so that they don’t harm themselves or put themselves in danger. The activity can be as simple as looking at a favorite toy or simple counting. The idea is to keep them occupied with something that they enjoy. The autism patient needs to be engaged in some happy and non-destructive thoughts so that the SIB nature of the patient cannot control his behavior.
- Visualizing nature’s beauty: There are few therapists that suggest that visualizing the mountains, rivers, or some beautiful landscape can help in keeping the mind calm. Always make the patient think about positive influences, and stringing in positive thoughts is also very helpful with the patients.
- Maintaining a particular timeline: A strict timeline with discipline combined with a very healthy diet and regular exercise can bring drastic changes.
The following therapies are adopted to treat patients with ASD:
1) Psychotherapy: The social and behavioral disorder can be treated with this counselling. There is a lot of improvement in the autism patient with regular one-on-one sessions with the therapist. These sessions also help the parents in understanding their child's problems and condition, which will help in handling the patient better. The therapist, provided with the information from the parents and studying the symptoms of the patient, comes up with the treatment plan.
2) Exposure Therapy: There is aversion for change and fear of new environments in autistic patients. In this therapy, the patient is made familiar with the surrounding slowly and gently by exposing him to it. This methodology will help the patient to overcome his fear.
Drugs used to treat autism symptoms or ASD:
Since the drugs used in the treatment of autism are all tranquilizers, care should be taken to accompany the patient at all times during the treatment.
Risperidone is from the antipsychotic family. It helps in treating irritability in the autism patient. The dosage of the drug depends on the weight of the patient. The regular dosage of drug shows improvements in disruptive behavior. There is a decrease in the number of tantrums, aggressive episodes, and self-injurious behaviors in children.
This drug is prescribed for children of between the ages 6 of 17. It shows good improvement in the irritability disorder of the autism patient. The drug is also advised for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, and major depressive disorder.
Clozapine belongs to the antipsychotic group. It helps in controlling the hyperactivity of the autism patient. Clozapine is a medicine that is primarily used to treat schizophrenia and for reducing suicidal behavior in patients with ASD.
Haloperidol is a highly potent and selective drug. It is primarily used in the treatment of schizophrenia and in the control of the nervous tics. Haloperidol has been used for a long time to treat acute agitation.
It is prescribed for patients suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal tendency. There is significant improvement in the social skills and repetitive behavior of the autism patient.
Sertraline helps in treating mood disorder.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is primarily responsible for forming relationships and emotional attachments. Since ASD leads to impaired social interaction and communication, the ability of oxytocin was used to reduce these deficits.
There are studies that show a decrease in the hyperactivity and impulsiveness of the autism patient. Methylphenidate is a mild CNS (central nervous system) stimulant indicated for attention-deficit disorders and narcolepsy.
Fluoxetine is part of the serotonin family, and it is advised for acute treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic attacks.
Memantine is prescribed to the Alzheimer’s patients. It helps them with their memory.
Usage of rivastigmine shows improvement in the cognitive and behavioral problems of the patient.
Mirtazapine is an oral antidepressant.
Melatonin improved sleep patterns in children with ASD.
The mainstay drugs for ASD are Risperidone and Aripiprazole. They are FDA approved and specialize in treatment of this particular disorder.
Clinical trials, after evaluating and treating numerous patients, have been taken up on a large scale. They have provided the medical field and doctors with numerous off-label options, also. It is advisable to undergo treatment under the strict guidance of a doctor and/or therapist. The drugs involved have severe side effects, and they vary from patient to patient.
- A combination of cognitive or psycho-therapeutic behavioral therapy and medications would be needed to treat patients with autism.
- Exposure therapy is used for some patients. The patient is slowly and gently introduced to gentle behavior, along with mild medications, and psychotherapies would bring in significant results.
- Self-help methodology is also advised to bring in faster results when the patient is in the right mood for it. The parents and caretakers also need to take lessons to handle the situations appropriately.