Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Autism are both common terms used for a group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders. ASD is primarily characterized by deficits in communication and social interactions, unusual behavior and interests, while impacting the nervous system and affecting overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical wellbeing of the individual. The signs and symptoms of autism are typically noticed in the first three years of life. Autism affects the way a child relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people. Subsequently, this grossly impacts development in the areas of daily functioning and social interaction. Mental capacities may be compromised due to atypical (subnormal) functioning of some areas of the brain. Hence, children with Autism have special needs that must be addressed differently.
Autism is usually diagnosed in early childhood and despite extensive studies, the exact cause of Autism remains elusive. However, with increased awareness, rapidly evolving technology and ever-growing research, it is now understood that an intricate interplay of genetics and environmental factors may be responsible for the onset of Autism. Research has established that early diagnosis and intervention, along with access to appropriate support lead to significantly improved outcomes. When Autism is detected and treated early, disruptive behaviors can be minimized and the quality of life of the individual can be bettered and moulded significantly.
History of Autism
The root of the term "autism" is derived from the Greek word "autos" meaning "self".
Paul Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, first coined the term in 1911 . He used it to describe a subset of schizophrenic patients who seemed to be self- absorbed and withdrawn. As time passed, our thinking and understanding of autism has evolved dramatically. An analysis of the description of behavior traits observed in several early documented cases suggests that these are in fact cases of what we now recognize as Autism. One famous and well documented example of this would be the story of Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron, who was found naked in a French forest. Victor did not understand language and would eat only half-burned or roasted potatoes, walnuts and raw chestnuts. Some even believed that he had been reared by wolves. The French physician Dr. Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard took Victor under his care and brought him to Paris. Dr. Itard spent several years trying to help Victor to integrate into human society and teaching him language. He was not completely successful as Victor only learned some French words, but never fully understood the language. However, there was an improvement in Victor’s fine motor skills and communication. He also developed a friendship with his caregivers. It is now known that Victor may have been autistic and whoever he lived with was unable to understand him. Hence, although Autism seems to be a new condition, a look at its history suggests that it may have always existed..
Dr. Leo Kanner (pronounced "conner") and Dr. Hans Asperger have played the most crucial roles in introducing Autism to the world. In 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner, an Austrian psychiatrist working at Johns Hopkins Hospital, published a paper describing 11 children who displayed a "strong desire of being alone", had a "resistance to change" or a "need for sameness". He introduced the term "early infantile autism" to describe his observations. A year later, Dr. Hans Asperger, also an Austrian psychiatrist, described similar characteristics in a group of children he was treating. It is was eventually accepted as a diagnosis in 1981 and coined as "Asperger’s Syndrome" by Dr Lorna Wing, an English Psychiatrist, who pioneered in child development disorders and advanced the perception of Autism, worldwide.
Prevalence of Autism
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide, 1 in 160 children has an ASD. This suggests that approximately 1% of the world population has ASD. The prevalence of Autism varies considerably from country to country. No factors have been identified to contribute to the increased prevalence in different countries.
The studies have picked up a steep rise in the prevalence of autism.
Studies have also shown that boys are 5 times more likely to develop Autism than girls.
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