Almost all of us know someone with autism directly or indirectly.
This is logical if we consider that it is calculated that approximatelyone in every 100 children born in Europe end up suffering some autism spectrum disorder (ASD), so the frequency with which we meet them in our environment is very large.
However, despite being so frequent, there are many questions that arise about these disorders, from the causes that originate them to their true definition, since the different autism spectrum disorders are associated with each other as if from one concerned. For this reason, in this article we are going to analyze some of the most important aspects related to the disease.
What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?
To begin with, the first mistake we usually make in this matter is to include all the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) under the title of autism. This is an incorrect assessment; since, in reality, this is only one of them, among which are also the Asperger syndrome, the childhood breakdown disorder and the Generalized development issue.
Usually all of them manifest themselves through problems toestablish social interactions, in addition to alterations in the mechanisms of communication both verbal and non-verbal.
On the other hand, they usually present compulsive behaviors, like the uncontrolled repetition of words and habits or the obsession to give in to established routines. The latter is due to the fact that they also have problems to face any type of change in its environment, however small it may be. Furthermore, this tendency not to leave their comfort area creates difficulties for them when it comes to imagine and understand the emotions of others.
In conclusion, it should be clear that, contrary to what many say, it is not a disorder necessarily associated with Mental retardation; for in fact they often possess great intelligence.
What is the biological cause of ASDs?
In general, in addition to the symptoms we have previously discussed, there are other features associated with these disorders that are not seen with the naked eye; like for example a brain overgrowth, accompanied by the excessive appearance of neural connections. Some studies have associated the latter with a malfunction of the synthetic pruning, which is responsible for eliminating neural connections that are no longer used.
But why is all this? It is difficult to speak of a single cause that leads to ASD, since it seems to be the result of a host of situations. On the one hand, we find the genetic causes,founded after the discovery of a gene, called UBE3A, which is responsible for activating the proper development of the brain, so a mutation in it could lead to abnormal development.
On the other hand, some scientists also associate it with damage to the amygdala and hippocampus, which are the brain regions in charge of controlling emotions. This is due to the results obtained in some experiments in which this part of the brain is removed from experimental animals, which immediately begin to show symptoms associated with ASD.
Therefore, it is not known for sure which of these causes is the most successful, although it could perfectly well be a combination of both, seasoned with environmental factors.
How and when are ASDs diagnosed?
Children with ASD usually begin to show symptoms from the three years, although before twelve monthsthey can already be detected in some features of their behavior, as the indifference to the game, the eye contact scarce, the absence of social smile or unwarranted crying during extended timeHowever, it is generally detected later through observation of abnormal behaviors such as compulsive repetitions, difficult to carry out imaginative gamesor problems to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.
Once parents detect this type of behavior, they should contact a specialist. To carry out the diagnosis, the child will carry out a series of tests of his verbal and cognitive abilities, in addition to a neurological study comprehensive. Next, once the ASD is detected, you must specify which of them is, since not all of them have exactly the same symptoms. For example, children with Asperger syndrome retain the skills associated with language Well structured, whereas the same does not normally occur in those with autism. However, on some occasions it is not possible to determine it exactly, so it is classified as Generalized developmental disorder, unspecified.
This problem of correctly detecting all cases is leading scientists to seek other more efficient methods, such as the two studies recently developed by the University of Vermont and the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio, who study the look of the child to carry out the diagnosis; since, according to their research, when they are participating in a conversation, children with ASD tend to look for the mouth of their interlocutor when the topic becomes too emotional. This is a very revolutionary finding, since the diagnosis could be carried out through a simple call to skype.
What treatments exist for ASD?
Although at the moment there is no drug that can end the disorder, I do know that there are some treatments that contribute to the integration and normalization of the life of these patients.
These actions are mainly from two types:
Behavioral and communication therapies:
These therapies are intended to create new positive behaviorsreinforcing the existing ones, teaching new skills and decrease the behaviors that interact with the learning. Some methods used are those based on occupational therapy, which teach these children day-to-day skills such as bathing or dressing, and the tools sensory integration, which teach them how to process information from senses.
In addition, performing sport, therapies with companion animalsand even using games like Minecraft, which has a concrete server for autistic children.
Although there is no drug capable of curing ASDs, there are some that can help resolve several of the associated symptoms, such as hyperactivity wave difficult to focus.
Recent research on ASDs
As I was saying, there is no treatment capable of curing these disorders, but that does not mean that there are not a large number of scientists looking for it.
For example, just a couple of months ago a group of researchers from the MIT managed to make the antisocial behavior in mice with autism. The appearance of symptoms was achieved after deactivating a gene called Shank3and, curiously, when it was reactivated the abnormal behavior disappeared, making clear its involvement in the development of the disorder.
On the other hand, another group of scientists from the same research center has carried out an experiment with monkeys, those who were induced a overactivation of the MECP2 gene, producing symptoms similar to those of autism and thereby obtaining the possibility of thoroughly investigating the genetic basis of the disease in animal models very similar to humans.
False myths about autism
In science, the appearance of false myths around a subject that begins to spread like wildfire until it takes root in the population with such depth that even those who call themselves professionals contribute to their belief.
Autism was not going to be less, so there are some popular legends about the appearance of the disease that, beyond being a small anecdote, can lead to the death of a lot of people.
Mainly I mean the false association that was made between the administration of some vaccines and the appearance of autism. This was a very famous case late 90s, when the doctor Andrew Wakefield, known for his anti-vaccine activism, propagated a study demonstrating the alleged relationship between the vaccine known as triple viral and the development of autism, raising the fear of millions of parents who began to stop vaccinating their children for fear that they end up suffering from these disorders. Logically, it was soon shown that it was all a fraud and that, in fact, the volunteers participating in the study all belonged to anti-vaccine families Furthermore, the trials were funded by lawyers that they had repeatedly denounced companies pharmaceutical vaccine producers. Suspicious, right?
Another case of false myths around this topic is that of the relationship between the appearance of the disease and the use of smartphones. Although it has been less widespread than that of vaccines, this myth was published in the networks by an article published in The Telegraph. Immediately, many professionals responded arguing that, on the one hand, there is no way in which smartphones can contribute to the increase in the number of neural connections and, on the other, that the article in question was based only on anecdotes and in no case did he mention studies published in scientific magazines.
TEA in film and television
If we think about autism spectrum disorders and cinema or television, one of the first cases that comes to mind is that of Sheldon Cooper, the young scientist with peculiar habits, protagonist of the series Big Bang Theory. As you know, this character suffers a Asperger syndrome book, which can be verified through its manasyour difficulty be related with others and, above all, their problems in understanding sarcasm.
Although the symptoms are less clear, this syndrome has also been associated with other television characters such as House, Mr Bean or even lisa Simpson.
As for cinema, there have been many films whose plot has revolved around this theme. A great example is that of Mercury Rising, known in Spain as Red Hot. In it, the protagonist, played by Bruce Willis, is an FBI agent who has to locate a kidnapped child who turns out to be a autistic with an impressive and dangerous ability to decipher government codes that are supposed to be indecipherable.
Celebrities with Autism Spectrum Disorders
A sign of how normal these people’s lives can be is the large number of characters with symptoms of these disorders that have achieved fame throughout history.
One of the best known is Albert Einstein; Who, despite being considered a sociable person, often showed concentration problems and other traits associated with ASD, especially when Asperger’s syndrome.
Also associated with these disorders is the peculiar personality of Wolfgang Amadeus MozartThis is extremely curious considering that some sound-sensitive autists have been found to only tolerate their music.
Finally, Stanley Kubrick, the father of the Mechanical Orange, showed great difficulty in empathize with the feelings of others; something that, as you know, is very typical in patients with this type of disorder.
Associations for Autism Spectrum Disorders
If you are interested in learning more about these disorders or have a friend or family member affected by them, we recommend you inform yourself in one of the many existing associations on this topic. We leave you the link to some of them.
Spanish Autism Confederation (FESPAU)
Association of Parents of People with Autism (APNA)
Asperger Federation Spain
Spanish Association of Autism Professionals (AETAPI)
And that’s it. We hope we have resolved some of your doubts about these disorders and that you have learned about these special children. Because to help them, the first step is to understand what is happening to them.