What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

It is a spectrum condition, this means that, while all people with autism share similar difficulties, their condition will affect them in various ways. Some people with autism are able to live fairly independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Autism spectrum disorder, also called ASD, is the name used for a certain set of behavioural, developmental challenges and problems that go with them. A diagnosis of ASD means a child’s communication, play and social skills are affected. The word spectrum is ASD means each child is unique and will have their own combination of characteristics that shape them with an individual social communication and behavioural profile. As your child is growing and developing, the manifestation or nature of these challenges and problems may change depending on their environmental and biological experiences. A person with ASD will generally have some form of behavioural and/or social differences their whole life.

What causes ASD?

ASDs affect people from all walks of life. Studies show that ASD affects one in a hundred children in the UK. It can affect people of every social economic background and race.

There are a lot of studies looking at the causes of ASD. Although no one specific cause is known, recent studies are indicating that ASD may be linked to differences in the brain. In some families, there seems to be a pattern of ASD or related differences in more than one family. This explains the genetic basis of the condition. There is no single gene identified. There are a number of researchers looking at the causes of ASD, it seems to link with the gene may be just one of three to five or more genes that interact in some way to cause the condition. Scientists suspect that a faulty gene or genes might make a person more likely to develop autism when there are also other factors present, such as a chemical imbalance, viruses or chemicals, or a lack of oxygen at birth. In a few cases, autistic behaviour can be caused by rubella (German measles) in the pregnant mother, tuberous sclerosis (a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumours to grow in the brain as well as in other vital organs), fragile X syndrome (the most common inherited form of intellectual disability), encephalitis or meningitis (brain inflammation). However, bad parenting does not in any way cause ASD.

How early can ASD be recognised in children?

Diagnoses is usually possible by the age of 18 – 24 months, although parents may notice some symptoms of an ASD before the age of 12 months. A characteristic feature of the onset is generally a delay in the development of speech, regression in language and social skills. The child will also have repetitive stereotyped patterns of behaviour.

Is there any cure for ASD and what can parents do to help their child with ASD?

There is no cure for ASD. As we have a greater understanding of the condition, there are a number of interventions to help the child with different aspects of an ASD. There are some interventions to improve the symptoms, however as this is a lifelong condition, people with ASD will always have some of the characteristic of ASD throughout the rest of their lives.

Parents have an essential role in providing support to children with an ASD. They can help by ensuring access to health services and appropriate education and provide the affection and care needed throughout the child’s life. Recently, it has been shown that parents can also successfully deliver psychosocial and behavioural interventions to their own children.
As ASD is a life-long disorder and different appearance (for example peer interactions change throughout life) will occur over time. The early diagnosis improves the outcome.

What does the future hold for your child?

This is naturally one of the common questions that parents ask after their child has been diagnosed with ASD. They also want to know the strengths and needs of the child which might influence that prognosis over the child’s lifetime. There is no one answer that every doctor can hand out to every parent who is concerned about his or her child future. The causes of the disorder differ from child to child; therefore, the prognosis will vary as well. This also depends on the presence of coexisting conditions, such as epilepsy, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia) and learning difficulties.

In her NHS role, in line with the recommendations of NICE, Dr Kukendrarajah has developed an incredible service for autism spectrum disorder and some of the co-existing conditions. She created a comprehensive assessment tool which has proved to be invaluable and is now beginning to be recognised for use by multiple service providers. She continuously reviews and updates her skills in line with current evidence and NICE/SIGN guidelines to achieve and maintain the highest-quality services.

Our service, in collaborating with a multi-disciplinary team consisting of speech & language therapists, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, will diagnose, assess and manage the social communication disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and co-existing conditions ADHD, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia), learning difficulties, and sleeping and feeding disorders.

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