Autism Spectrum Disorder is an inherited disorder that is validated by the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Contrary to popular belief, it is and never was caused by vaccines! That is completely false information and has never been validated. There are many symptoms that classify this autism and they are evaluated on a severity scale to determine how much these symptoms interfere with the individual’s daily level of functioning and well as how much intervention will be needed. The first main symptom are deficits in social communication and interaction. This can be exhibited by failure to partake in a conversation, lack of eye contact, lack of body language, and deficits in establishing and maintaining relationships. The next main symptom is restricted and repetitive interests or behaviors. This may be characterized by repetitive motor movements and/or speech, adherence to routines, fixated interests, and hyper- or hypo-reactivity to certain stimuli. This information makes up the first infographic. This information can be found here on the CDC website.
There are no cures for autism, but there are a variety of medications that can be used to lessen symptoms. SSRI’s may be used to reduce the frequency and intensity of repetitive behaviors. It can also decrease anxiety and tantrums as well as improve eye contact. Tricyclics are in the same class of drugs as SSRI’s and can even be more effective at treating the same symptoms. Psychoactive drugs are approved to reduce irritability in those with autism. They may also decrease hyperactivity. Stimulants may increase focus ad also decrease hyperactivity. Anti-anxiety medications may relieve anxiety and panic attacks which are associated with autism. Last, anticonvulsants treat seizures as up to 1/3 of people with autism experience seizures. As you can see, there are many medication options for those with autism. This information is summarized in the second infographic and can be found here on the National Institute of Health website.
If you are looking to learn a few quick autism facts, AutismSpeaks website has what you need. As you can see in the third infographic, autism is actually quite common. As of 2020, 1 in 54 children will be diagnosed with ASD! Though it is more common in boys, many girls are affected as well. Due to the fact that there are different levels of severity in those with autism, intellectual ability varies. Majority of those with autism have average and even above average IQs which is a score above 85. The remaining have IQs below 85. Autism also often presents many other co-morbid diagnoses in those who are affected. For example, 30-61% of those with autism also have ADHD. More than half of those with autism also experience sleep problems. Anxiety disorders and depression are also very common and affect about 7-40%. Due to the lack of serotonin in the brain in those who have autism, more serotonin usually resides in the gastrointestinal tract which causes many gastrointestinal issues. Unfortunately, two thirds of children with autism experience bullying. A fraction of those with autism also demonstrate self-injurious behaviors. Over 50% of young adults with autism do not get jobs or enroll in higher education and many never have a paying job. I told my boss who is a pharmacist these statistics and her response was, “That is absurd, the healthcare system needs to make a priority out of establishing the adult lives of those with autism, the childhood experience is only a fraction of what matters to live a normal life. We can’t just ignore them once they graduate high school.”
Though all outcomes of autism are different, we must do better to improve the lives of those affected. There is no reason as to why these individuals can not have a successful life. Early and aggressive intervention will lead to the best outcomes. Knowing the signs and symptoms is very important so we can identify and treat the problem as soon as possible. One of my psychology professors has a child with autism and she always made the point that “we need people with autism as they add variety and a new way of thinking to the life experience as a whole.” She is right, if everyone was normal, life would be boring. Autism isn’t wrong, it’s just different. And different is always OK.