By Dr. Amrita Gupta, Pediatrics
Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a chronic neurodevelopmental condition, which impairs the cognitive and emotional growth of children. The symptoms are usually spotted in children under the age of 4. The condition is typified by difficulty or sometimes, disability in social interaction along with repetitive behaviour.
Though many probable causes of autism have been put forward, the exact cause is not known. The factors, which influence the development of autism in most cases, are as follows:
1. Genetic factors
Mutations in the X chromosome were discovered to be the predominant reason for most cases of autistic behavior.
2. Pre-natal Factors
The immune system is naturally weak during pregnancy and susceptible to infections. If the mother is affected by infectious diseases or extreme physical and emotional stress, the child might develop autism. Maternal smoking and drinking is also linked to autism.
3. Perinatal Factors
If the child is deprived of oxygen for too long (hypoxia) during birth or if the birth is premature, chances of autism are high.
4. Post-natal Factors
Exposure to toxins and allergies, deficiency of the required nutrients and oxidative stress within the first few weeks after birth can lead to a number of neurological diseases including autism and schizophrenia.
5. Defects in the Immune System
In some cases, child vaccinations render the immune system hyperactive. Then antibodies might be produced which attack the brain.
The symptoms of autism are varied and may differ from case to case. The common ones are:
1. Cognitive- Learning disabilities and limited concentration and sometimes, over concentration in a small number of things
2. Behavioural- Impairment of verbal communication, obsessive compulsive behavior, inappropriate social actions, over responsiveness to sound, channel vision and lack of eye contact
3. Developmental- Speech disorders, poor muscle coordination, rapid and unnecessary repetition of a particular action, spasms and tics
4. Psychological and emotional- Lack of emotional sensitivity, no empathy for others, constant anxiety and inexplicable panic attacks