• 05Jul

    What are the early symptoms of autism?

    Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed in children below three years of age. It is a multifactorial disorder, the exact cause being unknown. It is 4 times more common in males. It is characterized by impairment of development of communication skills, social interactions and imagination.

    Brain of autistic children

    The first 2 years of life are important in early brain development. Magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the autistic children have increased brain volume in comparison to other normal children. The cerebrum, cerebellum and limbic regions are larger. These areas of brain are responsible for cognitive, language, emotional, and social functions, which are impaired in autism. It is believed that an abnormal circuitry in the above areas of brain in the first 2 years of life results in autism.

    Salient early symptoms

    The clinical features depend on the severity of developmental impairment. The autistic child is often withdrawn and spends hours in playing alone. Ritualistic behaviour is seen which reflects the child’s need to maintain a consistently predictable environment. These children demonstrate a rigid adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals. They have stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms like hand or finger flapping or twisting. They may be persistently occupied with parts of objects. Some children have well developed skills like solving puzzles, art or music.

    Autistic child is often withdrawn and spends hours in playing alone.

    Autistic child is often withdrawn and spends hours in playing alone.

    Impairment in social interaction: This includes impairment of nonverbal behaviour like eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures during social interaction. They also fail to develop peer relationships as per their level of developmental. There is a lack of social or emotional reciprocity with other people. A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests or achievements is seen which manifests as lack of expressions of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest. Some children with autism may make no eye contact and seem totally aloof, whereas others may show intermittent engagement with their environment and may make inconsistent eye contact and smile.

    Impairment in communication: A delay or complete absence of development of spoken language is seen which is not compensated by alternative modes of communication like gestures. In individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others is seen. A stereotyped and repetitive use of language is seen. Their verbal abilities can range from being nonverbal to having advanced speech, capable of imitating songs or rhymes. The intellectual function may range from mental retardation to well developed intellect in a particular area. Eye contact is typically minimal or absent.


    Behavioral therapy: This therapy is started before 3 years of age and targeted toward speech and language development. It is successful in improving both language capacity and later social functioning. It usually requires intensive 40 hours per week behavioural training. The training method focuses on behaviour, imitation activities, language development and integration with peers. Treatment is successful when it is directed toward the individual’s particular behaviour patterns and language skills. Parent education, training, and support are always indicated. Social skill training is also currently used as a treatment modality, and it appears effective, especially in a group format.

    Drug therapy: Clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant that inhibits serotonin reuptake, has demonstrated usefulness in reducing compulsions and stereotypies in autistic children. Other medications used to treat psychiatric symptoms in autistic children include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and clonidine.

    Some Autistic children grow up to live self-sufficient lives while the others remain dependent on their family for their daily requirements of living. Since an early intensive therapy may improve language and social function, delayed diagnosis may lead to a poor outcome. A better prognosis is associated with higher intelligence and functional speech.

    Anna L.

    It’s all about health!
    I have academic background in drugs related Chemical Technology, as well as extensive professional experience in pharma and medical companies. My main area of interest is everyday life medicine. The goal of my articles is to give people informative answers to the questions that bother them, to dispel doubts and some common misbeliefs and also to inspire everyone to keep healthy lifestyle.

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