Understanding Autism (in Children) Definition, Signs, and Misconceptions

During the early twentieth century, before the prevalence of autism around the world, psychiatrists classified children who were withdrawn, self-absorbed, emotionally uncommunicative, and predisposed to repetitive behaviors as suffering from a type of schizophrenia. Over time, they found that schizophrenia was not the proper diagnosis.

As pediatric psychiatrists analyzed the children, it turned out that their condition was quite distinct from schizophrenia, although certain signs and symptoms did overlap. As worded by Siddhartha Mukherjee in his book, The Laws of Medicine, “Children with this disease seemed to be caught in a labyrinth of their own selves, unable to escape.” By 1912, a new word was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler to describe the condition: autism, derived from the Greek word for “self.”

Theories About Autism in History

Psychiatrists have looked for patterns in families of children with autism for decades. They tried to make sense of the phenomena. Some noted that older parents tend to have children with autism, yet no systematic model existed. Other scientists asserted that autism was a result of abnormal neural development. During the 1960s, a solid new theory surfaced and held quickly from the throes of behavioral and psychoanalytical thinking: autism in children resulted from parents who were emotionally cold.

As observed closely, the parents of children with autism did seem detached and remote from their kids. The assumed theory seemed to fit almost everything. It was presumed that children adapt behaviors by mirroring their parents.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The American Psychiatric Association updated the term autism into autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2013. ASD is now an umbrella term for neurological developmental conditions that cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges, such as autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome. ASD is known to be associated with both environmental and genetic factors.

Autism Spectrum Disorder manifests in children early on through communication difficulties, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors. Parents may notice hallmarks of autism during the first two to three years of their child’s life.

Although these signs often develop gradually, there are cases of children who experience regression in their communication and social skills as they reach developmental milestones. Unfortunately, many children also do not receive a diagnosis until they’re older.

What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The exact causes of ASD remain unknown. There may be an early overgrowth in the brains of children with autism, which denotes that their brain develops faster than average. Hence, the different parts of the brain don’t normally coordinate with each other. Genetics may also be involved in ASD. However, it is unlikely that one specific gene is solely responsible for it. Some researchers found that many possible genes play a role in the development of ASD. In families with more people with ASD than others, it suggests that genes play a significant role.

ASD may appear out of nowhere in some families, but it seems more common for others due to genetics. However, it’s important to know that ASD isn’t caused by anything that the parents did or did not do as they raise their child.

What are the Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The early signs of ASD can be noticed in a child’s first two to three years, which is why it’s crucial to watch their social communication development during toddlerhood. Source: sueatkinsparentingcoach.com For instance, parents of children later diagnosed with ASD observed their child to lack interest in other people during their first year. These babies don’t make eye contact with their parents during nappy changes or while being held. Another sign is the lack of typical behaviors like smiling. Other signs of autism in children you may recognize early are the following:

Social difficulties

 Not looking at people
 Inability to respond to their name before the age of one
 Difficulty understanding emotions
 Avoidance of cuddling or hugging
 Indifference when others speak to them
 Incapable of interacting with others

Unusual behaviors/interests

 Excessive interest in particular objects or items
 Inclination to objects rather than people
 Intense reactions certain sounds, smells, tastes, or textures
 Easily upset by changes to their routine or environment
 Repetitive movements

Communication challenges

 Delayed speaking skills
 Repetition of the same words
 Unrelated responses to questions
 Usage of strange tones or voice
 Lack of spontaneous gestures when communicating

Tips for Parents in Caring for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Apart from the necessary medical care and therapies, there are proven effective ways for parents to help their children with ASD in their daily lives. The following tips can make a difference for the better.

1. Positive reinforcement. Children with autism spectrum disorder will respond well when you praise or reward them for doing something right. This will make both parents and children feel good. Remember to be specific so that they understand what actions or behaviors are acceptable.

2. Consistency with routines. Children with autism also do great with routines and schedules. Ensure consistent guidance and interaction to make their daily living easier. Coordinate with family members, therapists, and teachers to maintain consistency in everything.

3. Give them time for fun. Explore different activities and develop approaches that will work best for your child. Activities that bring them joy would help them open up and connect with you.

4. Have a support system. A supportive and understanding household is vital in caring for children with autism. Involve and educate everyone in your family for efficient care at home. Learn as much as you can about their condition to manage them more effectively. Assistance from trusted friends, relatives, and professionals when things get overwhelming will help as well.

5. Remember to take care of yourself. Your ability to care for your child relies heavily on your own well-being. Take good care of yourself so that you could understand and support your child better.

Final Thoughts

If you are a parent of a child with ASD, the first step to handling autism effectively and thoughtfully is by helping them understand that they are on the spectrum. You can also raise awareness about ASD to combat misconceptions and misinformation about autism. With the right approach and support, you can help your child lead a healthy and normal life.

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