Dr Apurva Kumar Pandya, Director of Parul Institute of Public Health and Faculty of Medicine at Parul University, Gujarat, India, shines a light on autism spectrum disorder, an oft-misunderstood group of conditions related to the development of the brain.
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socialises with others. It begins in early childhood, eventually causing problems in social interaction and communication, depending on the range of symptoms and severity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1 in 100 children worldwide has autism. The condition affects individuals across all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, it is found to be four times more common among males than females.
There is no known cause of autism. However, genetics, differences in brain anatomy, and environment factors are considered to play a key role. Given the many misconceptions about autism, it’s important to shed light on the facts. Dr Apurva Kumar Pandya, First Check member, and Director of Parul Institute of Public Health and Faculty of Medicine at Parul University, Gujarat, India helps debunk 5 common myths about the condition.
Myth 1: Autism is a disease
Fact: Autism is not a disease. It is a disorder that individuals are born with and is not a result of an illness or disease. Individuals with autism are not considered ill. They have a neurological condition that affects the way their brain functions – differently from neurotypical individuals.
It’s important to note though that autism is a complex disorder that often co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder and depression, as well as neurological disorders such as epilepsy.
Myth 2: Vaccines cause autism.
Fact: Previous studies, which suggested a causal relationship between vaccines and autism, were later found to have flawed methodology. The medical community has conducted numerous researches, which have consistently demonstrated that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. In fact, research has shown that vaccines are safe and effective.
Myth 3: Bad parenting causes autism.
Fact: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is widely accepted to result from a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and is not causally linked to deficient parenting or inadequate care. According to scientific evidence, autism is not caused by parenting practices. Although the exact aetiology of autism is unknown, it is thought that genetics may be involved because the problem tends to run in families.
Myth 4: Autism can only be diagnosed in early childhood.
Fact: Autism is a condition that can be identified and diagnosed at any stage of life. Generally, symptoms emerge within the first two years of life. However, autism can manifest in adults too. It is not uncommon for the condition to remain undiagnosed.
Diagnosing autism can be challenging, and it requires the expertise of qualified healthcare professionals such as clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, or pediatricians. While there is no specific blood test or imaging technology that can diagnose autism, it is still possible to diagnose the condition through a comprehensive evaluation of one’s developmental history and behaviour.
Myth 5: Autism can be cured.
Fact: There is currently no known cure for autism. However, there are treatments and evidence-based psychosocial support interventions that can help manage the condition. One of the primary challenges for people with autism is difficulty in understanding language and nonverbal cues from others, which can make communication and social interactions challenging. Furthermore, individuals with autism may struggle with empathising with others, which can impact their ability to communicate effectively and maintain positive relationships with others.
Early intervention can help individuals with autism to learn critical social, communication, functional and behavioural skills. The goal of treatment is to maximise the individual’s ability to function by minimising symptoms and supporting development and learning.
Not a myth: Individual with autism generally possess a unique talent or skill set.
Fact: A significant proportion, up to one in three individuals with autism, exhibit exceptional abilities. The underlying mechanisms and causes of such talents are still being investigated.
Individuals with autism tend to exhibit exceptional skills in fields, such as memory, visual and spatial cognition, music, and mathematics, which is commonly known as savant syndrome. Scientific studies suggest that this may be due to structural and functional differences in the brain, especially in the areas that process sensory information and memory.