Literature Review on Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Topic: Psychology
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is quite a wide-spread and complex health problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for autism. In some cases, autism symptoms are not severe, but some patients cannot lead a standard lifestyle.

The word “spectrum” is used because there is a wide variety of symptoms and their severity. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the patient’s behavior and communication capabilities. Although the signs might manifest themselves at any age, they typically appear during the first year of life. It is a lifelong disorder that can be alleviated but not cured.

Autism: History & Background Information

The disorder has been known under its name for more than a century. But some examples of autistic behavior had appeared in literature long before scientists named it. For instance, The Table Talk of Martin Luther describes a 12-year-old boy who has definite autistic symptoms. There are other examples of specific connections between autism and English literature.

It was a Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler who coined the term “autism” in 1911. An Austrian-American psychiatrist Leo Kanner was the one to use this term in a medical report. That usage dates back to 1943 when Kanner described 11 children with peculiar behavioral features.

Donald Triplett was the first patient with an official diagnosis of “autism.” He first was examined by Kanner in 1938. After years of research and examinations, Kanner published his thesis on autism in 1973. The paper described various cases, including those 11 children with a common unusual behavioral model. Among other symptoms, children showed unsociability. They preferred to stay alone, isolated from the crowd.

Over the past decades, numerous autism research paper topics were developed. The scholars tried to determine the causes and consequences of the disorder and possible ways to deal with it. At first, professionals were unable to differentiate autism from childhood schizophrenia. A checklist for diagnosing autism appeared in 1987.

The general term “Autism Spectrum Disorders” replaced some other names in 2013. That update of the classification helped to reach consensus among scientists, psychiatrists, physicians, and other specialists across the globe.

Till 1970-1980 there was little to no evidence that autism was a genetic disease. Nowadays, scientists claim that autism is one of the most heritable psychiatric conditions. Adults with the disorder need to pay special attention to child planning, as there is a high risk that their kids would have autistic symptoms, too.

The development of Internet communication has played a significant role in helping autistic individuals. It enables them to bypass nonverbal cues that people typically use in person. Moreover, there are many online communities for individuals with ASD. The members can support each other, share insights and tips, etc.

Autism Prevalence

Scientists estimate that every 110th American suffers from an autism spectrum disorder. This means that 2.8 million Americans officially have the ASD diagnosis, and many more might have a very “light” form of the disorder.

The number of reported cases of ASD increased significantly over the past 20-30 years. Some factors that explain that fact are improved diagnostic techniques, increased availability of services, public awareness, environmental problems, etc. This is a global tendency. As of 2015, autism affected nearly 25 million people on our planet.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD refers to three common disorders, namely Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Autistic Disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome. They all have slightly different symptoms of unequal severity. Autism is the most serious out of the three, while the latter (also called “functional autism”) is the least severe.

Doctors diagnose the disorder by observing human behavior and development. ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed in young children. The first diagnostic tests typically happen before a child reaches the age of one. Caregivers must request a test as soon as possible so that they can start adequate treatment in time.

Diagnosing young children is often a two-step process.

  1. General developmental screening
  2. Further examination, especially if the child is seriously at risk.

The vulnerable group includes children who:

  • have family members with some forms of ASD
  • are born to elderly parents
  • are born with a deficient weight
  • have some genetic diseases

The role of caregivers in the screening process for young children is vital. Doctors usually ask parents about their child’s behavior and associate the answers with ASD symptoms.

Children with some developmental problems in the screening process undergo the second stage of assessment. It may include:

  • Advanced pediatric examination by doctors specializing in behavioral disorders
  • Child psychologist sessions
  • Neuropsychologist examination
  • Speech pathologist participation

That evaluation gives an assessment of cognitive level, language skills, age-appropriate skills necessary for daily activities (eating, clothing, etc.)

Since ASD is a complex disorder that might co-occur with other diseases, a general assessment may include:

  1. Blood tests
  2. Hearing test
  3. Other associated tests

The results of all examinations help to formulate recommendations for diagnosis and treatment.

Autism: Family Issues

ASD influences almost every person that closely communicates with the patient. The family of a child with ASD needs to adapt to the new reality and act according to reasonable recommendations. For most parents, it might be a challenge to bring up a kid with autism. For children themselves, simple day-to-day interactions might be problematic. Thus, families of autistic people experience significant stressful effects. Let us consider them in more detail.

Communicative and social deficiencies are common symptoms of ASD. An autist can struggle to build friendly relationships both with strangers and with their own family members. What is more, children with autism sometimes show such behavioral problems as hysteria, self-harm, and general aggression. These symptoms can be challenging to deal with.

On the other hand, most children with autism tend to prefer a well-structured way of life. They love stability and get distressed with any kind of surprise. Developing routines is a vital component of comfortable living for an autistic child.

Such a “standardized” lifestyle might indeed interfere with the interests of other family members. It may also limit some activities typical of other families. For example, families with autistic children rarely participate in spontaneous or non-standard events. Various festivals, active celebrations, unplanned outings, and trips are unthinkable for many ASD patients.

Meanwhile, a child with ASD may have a standard “normal” physical appearance. Most autistic children are reported to look attractive. Consequently, those unaware of the disorder often attempt to establish contact with the child. This results in unexpected stress and anxiety for children, and an unpleasant awkwardness for the observer.

Summing up the issues described, families with autistic children may become somewhat isolated from society. They must lead a “special” lifestyle adapted to the needs of an ASD patient.

Autism & Parent-Child Relationship. How to Reduce Stress?

Once a child is diagnosed with ASD, their parents should begin self-education on the topic. It is vital to ensure reduced stress and improved life quality for all family members. Adequate treatment should start as soon as possible. Early measures against ASD is so important because proper care can reduce further difficulties.

Parents need to help their children learn new skills in a particular way. A playful form of interaction is advisable for all children. That might be even more important for children with autism. However, in communication with autistic children, that “playfulness” should be different. Autistic children need more social distancing, calm way of speech, etc.

Parents need to be aware of the peculiar perception patterns of their children. Children with ASD require even more patience and understanding than others. Moreover, the so-called emotional intelligence is what most autistic patients have difficulties with.

In most cases, young children are unable to consciously modify their behavior just yet. One of the tasks for parents is to teach them to do so. It takes a lot of explanations, special games, educative activities, and so on.

Luckily, in the age of technological progress, there are various technologies to help parents in this. For example, some gadgets and smart toys are designed especially for the needs of autistic children. Some companies release applications that help autistic kids learn new facts and even skills. Plentiful interactive games, videos, and podcasts are available online.

Thanks to online communities, parents of children with ASD worldwide can share their best practices. If a related question arises, there is always an opportunity to ask other parents for online advice.

A wide range of symptoms of ASD means that there is no single best strategy to reduce stress for families. Close collaboration with healthcare professionals helps to develop an appropriate plan.

Social Support for the Parents of Children with Autism

Families with autistic children need to find their balance between social interactions and reasonable isolation. This will help them avoid persisting nervousness, low self-esteem, repeated conflicts, and depression.

Social support is of prime importance for families dealing with ASD. They always have to combat such problems as irritability, aggression, attention issues, anxiety, and more. Thus, adequate support from communities is welcome. There are numerous forms of social support, including:

  1. Groups, group discussions for parents where they can exchange their best practices in dealing with challenges
  2. Psychological help (often available for free) for both parents and autistic children
  3. Special offers, discounts on goods, or events that might help patients with ASD
  4. Events promoting public awareness of the problem and explaining how to interact with children who have ASD diagnosis
  5. Online platforms for communication and cooperation of those affected by the issue of ASD
  6. Employment opportunities for parents of autistic children that offer work schedule flexibility and a chance to work remotely
  7. Articles, posters, other media to increase public awareness of the problem and encourage support and understanding, etc

Societal and cultural aspects of autism vary greatly in different cases. Some people seek increased understanding and support in the community. Others do not want to stand out and believe that autism is not more than a slightly modified way of being.

In any case, those involved in communication with families dealing with ASD should practice empathy and compassion. Should it be necessary, they can show their feelings and support actively. Otherwise, it is usually appropriate to treat interlocutors as equals who do not have many differences. All in all, every situation is unique and requires accurate consideration.

Conclusion

Autism spectrum disorder affects millions of people all over the world. There is a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity. Doctors diagnose the disorder by observing behavior and communication patterns and peculiarities in development. In most cases, ASD is diagnosed in young children, typically less than a year old. ASD implies various challenges for those who closely communicate with the patient. Developing individual strategies, routines, and activities is essential for a comfortable life for autistic children and their families. Numerous autism research topics exist. Autism case studies show that social support can be beneficial for ASD patients and their relatives.

Autism Literature Review FAQ

❓ What is autism spectrum disorder?

ASD is a complex of three rather similar behavioral and developmental disorders. They are Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Autistic Disorder, and Asperger's Syndrome. In some cases, Autistic Symptom Disorder's manifestations are not grave. Still, some patients cannot lead a standard lifestyle. The word "spectrum" hints at the variety of possible symptoms that patients have.

❓ What is the autism literature review?

A systematic literature review on autism spectrum disorder focuses on:
  • ASD definition, possibly a description of symptoms
  • The history of ASD and its diagnosis; background information
  • Autism prevalence in different countries and worldwide
  • Social and family issues related to the disorder
  • Ways to reduce stress for those affected by ASD

❓ How does autism affect the family?

If a child is diagnosed with autism in the family, there are numerous challenges involved. ASD patients tend to be unsociable, anxious, easily irritated, inattentive, and sometimes aggressive. Parents and other family members need to adapt to the peculiar perception patterns of the child. Families should be able to provide adequate care, understanding, and help to the autistic child.

❓ When can autism be diagnosed?

Autistic symptom disorder is usually diagnosed at a very young age. Sometimes teenagers and adults are diagnosed with autism. Some developmental abnormalities are typically visible during the first months of life. Caregivers should make sure that their children undergo a corresponding examination as early as possible. Early diagnosis gives a chance to reduce the symptoms for the whole life.

❓ What is the difference between autism and Down syndrome?

While both are lifelong developmental disorders, they have substantial differences in:
  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Manifestations
  • Medications
  • Treatments
Even adult patients with Down syndrome typically manifest a cognitive perception equivalent to that of an eight-year-old child. That condition often implies a delay in growth and a reduced muscle tone as well. Autism affects how patients view the world and interact with others.

References

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): Illinois University Library
  2. Autism Spectrum Disorder: UC Davis Health
  3. How can you support your teenager with autism spectrum disorder if they are depressed? Harvard Medical School
  4. Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Ball State University
  5. Autism Spectrum Disorder: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  6. About Autism: National Human Genome Research Institute
  7. Autism spectrum disorder (autism): BetterHealth Channel
  8. Autism Spectrum Disorder: NIH