When choosing topics that I was interested in for giving a talk on in class Autism or ASD came to mind first. Throughout junior high and high school there were two kids in my class that were part of the special education department, one had Down’s syndrome and the other was extremely autistic. Unlike some schools, where students with Down’s or Autism are kept completely separate from the other kids, we were allowed to interact and sometimes even help out with the two that were in our grade. These interactions not only made me want to know more about Autism, they made me want help others know more as well.
Autism, now commonly known as ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorders, is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is characterized by unusual, often repetitive, behaviors, difficulties in communication, and often severe social impairments. Most with ASD are diagnosed before the age of 6 and many show developmental delays. Autism Spectrum Disorders can range from severe, Autistic disorder where those with the disorder are extremely low functioning, to much more mild, such as Asperger’s where the person can be very high functioning. Early signs of the disorder can include avoidance of eye contact, repetitive motions like rocking back and forth, and extreme focus on one thing to the point of blocking everything else out.
No one cause of ASD is known. Instead, research has shown that any number of factors may be involved and that, like many other disorders, the combination of factors differs from patient to patient. Genetics is one component that seems to play a major part, if one sibling has an ASD the others are more likely to have one as well. Another factor is maternal age as genetic abnormalities become more prevalent the older the mother is. Pregnancy complications, as well as exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy, are also risk factors for the development of an ASD.
Research has shown that ASD are becoming increasingly common, especially in the last two decades. One survey of the United Kingdom found that 4.1 of every 10,000 had an ASD. Within the class of people with ASD differences have been found between males and females. For example, population studies have shown that two to three times more males have ASD than females, though the reason for this has yet to be found.
The topic of ASD is extremely broad and the amount of research that has been done and is currently being done is staggering. This is just a very small amount of what is known about ASD. For those interested more information can be found in the articles listed below.
Lai, M., Lombardo, M.V., and Simon Baron-Cohen. “Autism.” The Lancet 383.9920 (2014): 896-910.
Volkmar, F. R., Pauls, D. Autism. Lancet, 362(2003): 1133-1141
One thought on “Autism: Some Basic Knowledge”
In regards to the relationship between the brain and behavior, ASD certainly sparks some inquisition. What parts of the brain are different in an ASD patient versus someone without ASD? In patients with schizophrenia, their ventricles are typically much larger than someone without schizophrenia. Perhaps certain brain structures are different in size and ability in patients with ASD. Or maybe there is a deficiency of certain hormones and neurotransmitters within the brain of these patients. Another question worth asking is why some patients excel in specific brain functions that link to math, memorization, science and a lot of other intellectual skills? The link between maternal age and teratogens affecting the likelihood of ASD arising in a newborn undoubtedly provide some paths towards figuring out what causes and exacerbates this strange disorder. Additionally, the fact that this disorder is on a spectrum also speaks to the brain functions and genetics associated with ASD, because certain genetic disorders, like Down’s Syndrome for example, do not appear to be on a spectrum as wide as that of ASD. Evidently, the rising rate of ASD should reflect the importance of research on this disorder, as well as many other under-studied mental disorders.