Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term used for many different kinds of mental illnesses where symptoms first appear in young children. These children have trouble communicating or interacting with other people. ASD is incurable but can be treatable depending on how severe a child’s symptoms are. Many children with ASD do manage to graduate school, hold down jobs, take care of family members, create art and even have happy lives.

The cause for any kind of autism is unknown although boys of older parents with a sibling that also has ASD are most common.

What are the Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Symptoms differ with each autistic child.

Symptoms include

They can range from a child unable to play with others or look them in the eye to a child who grows up unable to speak, feed itself or use the toilet. Children often have unusual behaviors such as severe mood swings, a problem emphasizing with others, not being able to hold down a simple conversation, talking in a robot-like voice, repetitive motions, sudden deep fascination for certain subjects that tend to last for the child’s life.

Children may also have other health problems like digestive issues and severe sleep problems. Some children become prodigies in music, engineering, math or other subjects and yet are not able to play with other children.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Causes

Autism spectrum disorder is a largely hereditary condition. It appears that having relatives with autism, especially maternal relatives with autism, massively increases the risk that you will have autism yourself. The specific mechanism these genes use is the cause for autism, and the most common explanations revolve around mitochondria. Those with autism have dysfunctional mitochondrial expression and defects in their mitochondrial DNA.

The hormonal profile of persons with autism spectrum disorder appears to differ greatly from a normal person’s. ASD is associated with higher levels of testosterone and greater concentrations of androgen receptors. Statistics show that ASD is more common among males than females, and that males appear to show more severe symptoms. Additionally, the mothers of boys with ASD often have conditions linked to androgen as well such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Other factors involved include the amount of vitamin D and acetylcholine in the body. ASD patients do seem to have lower levels of these hormones overall.

How is Autism Spectrum Disorder Treated?

Therapy

Treatment includes therapy that can last the rest of the child’s life. The entire family of an autistic child may need therapy in order to learn how to cope with such a strange family member. Some children respond better than others to talk therapy, art therapy, music therapy or having a therapy dog.

Medication

Medications only work to help reduce specific symptoms. Types of medications often prescribed include SSRI antidepressants and antipsychotic medications. Lithium or anticonvulsive medications may be prescribed for aggressive children. Children on lithium need regular blood tests to avoid lithium poisoning.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevention

A new line of research is focused on trying to prevent autism spectrum disorder. While all agree that autism is a congenital disorder and that it is largely the result of hereditary factors, there is hope that pregnant mothers can take the right steps to prevent ASD. It is known that persons with autism tend to have lower levels of certain vitamins with vitamin D, or calcitriol, being the most severe deficiency.

Some research has shown that women who take vitamin D while pregnant are less likely to have children with ASD, but the body of research currently available is too sparse to give a proper answer. There is also now genetic screening available, which means women can find out whether or not the child they may give birth to will have autism. Overall, it seems that better prenatal care is shaping up to be an ideal approach in regards to autism spectrum disorder.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 14, 2017
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