Autism refers to a range of developmental disorders that hinder normal developmental milestones. There are no real explanations as to why autism develops in children, and there is very little scientific evidence to pinpoint specific environmental factors that cause autism in developing fetuses.
Since you only can take so much preemptive action, the onus shifts to detecting in time whether your child has autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to the spectrum of disorders that affects a child with autism, and usually can be detected in infancy or early childhood.
The degree and extent of developmental problems vary from child to child. But almost every toddler experiencing ASD will have difficulty in learning to talk, play, bond with others, and relate to his or her surroundings.
Here are a few things you need to know about autism and how you can detect it in time, paving the way for timely, helpful and intensive intervention.
Look out for Developmental Obstacles
Unless parents are aware of the risk, autism symptoms fail to be noticed until the baby is about two years old. If you are attentive, it will be possible to detect the symptoms as early as nine months.
More often than not, the earliest indicators of autism in a baby are not the presence of abnormal behaviors, but absence of normal or age-appropriate behaviors. Common symptoms to look for before a baby’s first birthday include behavioral clues, such as low levels of social interaction, not mimicking parents, indulging in repetitive actions, a low irritability threshold, not pointing to objects or trying to babble, and clumsiness or extreme sensitivity to sounds or touch. Also if babies or toddlers do not respond to their name and do not indulge in warm, expressive and joyful behavior.
Early intervention therapies do wonders for the highly elastic brains of young children, and help rewire them and reverse the symptoms of autism.
In older children an inability to make friends or relate to significant family members is a developmental red flag. An inability to understand or express their feelings is also a warning sign.
Screening for Autism
Science has yet to discover foolproof screening methods to detect and arrest autism in children.
Brain imaging methods have detected certain differences in neurological development in children at risk of developing autism. It has been discovered that nerve fibers do not follow routine pathways when connecting different parts of the brain to another. As a result, sensory and social development of high-risk children is affected, leading to symptoms of ASD.
Hormones also are believed to play a role in the development of ASD in fetuses. A study by Simon Baron-Cohen’s team at Cambridge University has found that the presence of higher levels of the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol in the expectant mother’s amniotic fluid indicates a higher risk for ASD.
Another research study carried out by a team at the California Department of Public Health also found a link between maternal hormone levels and the chances of the baby developing autism. The study was based on the findings of the mid-pregnancy triple screening tests. These studies show there could be a possible link between prenatal hormone exposure and development of autism.
Vasopressin, a hormone associated with regulating blood pressure, also is found at lower levels in children experiencing symptoms of autism, especially social difficulties. So hormone testing could be a part of analyzing a child’s vulnerability to the condition, and the hormone vasopressin may be a biological marker as far as social impairment in children with ASD is concerned.
Importance of Pre-Natal Environment
Genetic factors continue to exert the most influence in determining whether a baby develops autism, but the role played by environmental factors is increasingly gaining recognition as a causative factor. Of all environmental factors, prenatal environment is considered to be the most critical. Genetic vulnerability to autism is aggravated or triggered when a fetus is exposed to certain conditions in the womb or soon after birth.
Poor maternal nutrition during the early months of pregnancy, especially not getting enough folic acid, use of anti-depressants during pregnancy, the age of expectant mother and father, and exposure of the pregnant woman to pollutants all increase risk of autism. Again, it needs to be stressed there is no solid scientific evidence to place the blame on the above-mentioned factors, but there is increasing evidence and the latest trailblazing research adds credibility to this.
Autism requires the brain to be taught new things and be rewired to enable better social interactions and more evolved communication skills. It is very important that parents make use of early developmental screenings and access intervention programs as early as they possibly can.