Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorders is a diverse group of developmental conditions characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. It involves limited or repetitive patterns of behavior. People with ASD have different ways of learning, moving and paying attention. Although some people without the condition might also suffer some of these symptoms, these characteristics make life very challenging for people with autism. 

Signs and symptoms 

Autism begins In early childhood and eventually causes problems functioning well in the society. Some children show early signs of autism within the first 12 months of life. In others, autism signs may not show up until 24 months of age or later. Importantly, some children with ASD gain new skills and meet developmental milestones until around 18 to 24 months of age, and then they stop gaining new skills or lose the skills they once had.

While autism spectrum disorder appears different from person to person, doctors look for these two core symptoms when making a diagnosis. The level of support an autistic person requires daily determines the severity of these symptoms. 

For social communication and interaction:

  • Little or no eye contact 
  • Fails to respond to their names or appears to not hear you at times 
  • Prefers playing alone
  • Doesn’t speak or has delayed speech, or loses previous ability to say words or sentences
  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech
  • Not doing as much as play pretend
  • Not smiling when you smile at them
  • Taking things literally — they may not understand phrases like break a leg or 
  • Doesn’t seem to understand what others are thinking or feeling 

For behavior patterns: 

  • Repetitive movements such as rocking body, spinning in circles, or flapping hands
  • Repeating the same words or phrase — called echolalia 
  • Obsessive interests
  • Has a certain routine they must follow 
  • Gets very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound
  • Gets upset at even the slightest change
  • Usually sensitive to light, sound or touch, yet may be indifferent to pain or temperature

Other signs include:

  • Lack of or more fear than expected 
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills 
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits 
  • Epilepsy and seizures 
  • Difficulty in communicating or regulating emotions, often times resulting in self-injurious behaviors, sensory overload, shutdowns or meltdowns
  • Needing help with daily living skills 
  • Anxiety 
  • Hyperactivity, impulsivity or Inattentiveness 
  • Gastrointestinal issues eg, constipation


Research shows that ASD develops from a combination of genetic influences and environmental factors including social determinants.

There are also factors that appear to increase the risk of autism and shape the type of autism that a child will develop. However, it’s important to note that the increased risk is not the same as a cause. For instance, some gene changes associated with ASD can also be found in persons without the disorder. Similarly, not everyone exposed to an environmental risk factor for autism will develop the disorder. In fact, majority will not.

Below are some factors that influence autism:

  • Gene changes 
  • Fragile x syndrome 
  • brain growth disruptions in early development
  • having a twin or older sibling with autism
  • maternal obesity or diabetes
  • the use of certain medications during pregnancy (e.g., valproic acidselective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • preterm birth and low birth weight
  • Prenatal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides
  • Birth complications leading to periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain

Treatment and intervention 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects people differently, which means that autistic people have unique strengths and challenges and require different treatment needs. 

Treatments can be given in a combination of settings; home settings, health, education, or community. It is also important that providers communicate with the autistic person, their family and with each other to ensure that the expectations of treatment goals and progress are being met. 

There are many treatments available for ASD, and  treatments may involve more that one approach.  Below is a breakdown of various categories of treatment available for autistic patients:

  • Behavioral
  • Developmental 
  • Education and school based therapies
  • Social training skills 
  • Parent mediated therapy 
  • Pharmacological 
  • Psychological 
  • Complementary and alternative approach 

Note: If you’re concerned about your child’s development or you suspect that your child may have autism spectrum disorder, discuss your concerns with your doctor. The symptoms associated with the disorder can also be linked with other developmental disorders.

Signs of autism spectrum disorder often appear early in development when there are obvious delays in language skills and social interactions. Your doctor may recommend developmental tests to identify if your child has delays in cognitive, language and social skills. 

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