Growth and development are some of the characteristics of any naturally living entity. But the physical growth of the body and rates of development in intellectual capacity might differ in a number of ways, even in creatures of the same species. The differences may be determined by a number of factors i.e. genetic and environmental factors that may confer advantages in some and shortfalls in others. One of the deviant conditions in the normal development stages of man is Autism.
Autism is defined as a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in perpetuating social interactions, underdeveloped communication skills, restricted and repetitive behavior. It is associated with both genetic and repeated behavior.
Controversially, there have been contentions on the some of the environmental factors that have been previously thought to cause the condition. The vaccine hypothesis was disproven having been proposed by some as one of factors that contribute to Autism. Infections such as Rubella during pregnancy are risk factors for Autism, then also certain levels of exposure to toxins such as pesticides, lead, cocaine, alcohol among others.
The signs are usually visible in the first three years of life and these include difficulties in grasping routinely done activities, noticeable communication and social skills problems, delayed learning in relation to the general population. The condition is not fully understood but it is thought to stem from difficulties in information processing which delays responses and inadvertently affects learning.
Globally, Autism is estimated to affect 24.8 million people as of 2015. In the 2000s, the number of people affected was estimated at 1-2 per 1000 people worldwide. In developing countries, health systems still grapple with significant bottlenecks in the primary diagnosis of the condition. In the developed world, about 1.5% of children are diagnosed but overall the number of the diagnosed people has been ever increasing and this has been attributed to better diagnostic practices.
People with the condition show high variability in characteristics. They may be impaired, average or even superior to the general population in some performed tasks. The condition is distinguishable by a characteristic triad of symptoms which are impairment in social skills, communication and repetitive behavior.
There are however other observations that may be seen in people with the condition which may include sensory abnormalities which present by being highly responsive or the general lack of response to normal stimuli.
Behavioral observation rather than the search for causes is what underlies diagnosis. Symptoms are usually more pronounced at three years of age although maybe seen at as early as six months.
Rubella infections during pregnancy is one of the risk factors for the condition. Immunization against Rubella can lower risk.
There is no known cure for condition but there are cases where some children have recovered, education about the condition can be of great help to caretakers. Management of the condition aims at improving quality of life by mitigating the negative behaviors and lessening the burden on caretakers. Early childhood intervention to improve behavior and speech are important to improve social and communication skills.
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- GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators (8 October 2016). “Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015”. Lancet. 388(10053