Autism: Prevalence, Factors, and Misconceptions

Introduction

Addressing the needs of autistic people is one of the common concerns in contemporary healthcare. Autism spectrum disorder, commonly referred to as ASD, is a developmental disorder defined by a set of specific behavior patterns that usually affect a person’s ability to communicate with others (Dunn, 2019). Typically, persons with ASD demonstrate the earliest symptoms around the age of two, when it is expected that children will make attempts at interacting with others and developing social skills.

Not all individuals are diagnosed at an early stage of ASD development (Dunn, 2019). Quite the contrary, some might discover that they are on the spectrum later in their life, especially if their type of ASD is high-functioning. Autism spectrum disorder is a complex and often misunderstood condition that needs more research and awareness. This essay will provide recent statistics on ASD prevalence, explain how both genetics and the environment influence the development of the said disorder, and debunk the most common misconceptions.

Autism Statistics and Prevalence

Autism spectrum disorder does not discriminate against age, gender, race, ethnicity, or level of income. The Global Autism Project reports that around the world, 70 million people have autism (Dunn, 2019). According to the data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), in Europe, Asia, and North America, the average prevalence of this disorder amounts to 2% or 16 per 1,000 individuals.

One of the tendencies that need further clarification is the growing prevalence of ASD. As per reports published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), in 2004, only 1 in 125 children was diagnosed with ASD. By 2018, the number had risen to 1 in 59 children, which is concerning. One could argue that the described phenomenon could be attributed to increased awareness. Parents may have started paying more attention to their children and spotting signs and symptoms comparatively early. If this is the case, the trend in question may be positive since the earlier a person is diagnosed, the faster they can get medical and psychological help and be offered tools to adapt and live a full life.

The last fact worth mentioning is that boys are affected by autism spectrum disorder at a much higher rate than girls are. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) report that the disorder manifests itself in male children three times more often than in female children. This gender discrepancy has yet to be fully explained by scientists. Some attribute it to the role that genetics play in the development of ASD, whereas others argue that this condition is often overlooked in girls (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). To determine the exact reasons for the observed tendency to occur, comprehensive research is needed.

Autism Types

Autism spectrum disorder is misunderstood partly due to the varying degrees of manifestation of the disease. People who do not work in the medical field often have misconceptions of what a person with ASD is supposed to look and act like (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Thus, it is essential to outline the many types of ASD and highlight how diverse this condition is.

Autistic disorder, or so-called “classic” autism, is the most frequently occurring type of autism. Individuals diagnosed with the autistic disorder tend to display many of the common symptoms. These include speech delay, communication difficulties, struggles “reading” social and emotional cues, repetitive behaviors, and specific language patterns. Even within this category, the gravity of ASD may still vary (Autism Society, n.d.). For instance, some autistic individuals develop speech, while others stay non-verbal for their entire lives.

Asperger syndrome, or high-functioning autism, is the second type of autism. Persons with Asperger syndrome demonstrate milder and more manageable symptoms (Autism Society, n.d.). Despite having this condition, many are able to go to school, enter tertiary education, work, and sustain themselves. Usually, they do not suffer from language delays or intellectual impairments. However, communication difficulties are common among people with Asperger syndrome (Autism Society, n.d.). As a result, individuals with Asperger syndrome still struggle with self-expression and picking up on hints and subtle signs.

Finally, one should mention the non-specified pervasive developmental disorder. The non-specified pervasive developmental disorder means that an individual might have some of the common symptoms associated with ASD (Autism Society, n.d.). Nonetheless, medical professionals do not find it possible to diagnose patients with the first or the second type of this condition (Autism Society, n.d.). Therefore, the described type of autism spectrum disorders requires further research and in-depth analysis.

Genetic, Developmental, and Environmental Factors

As of now, scientists are still working on identifying what exactly causes autism. While several hypotheses have been suggested, a consensus has yet to be reached. According to Schaefer (2016), the most feasible theory about the origins of ASD pertains to the role of genes in its development. There have been several studies in twins that demonstrate that the heritability of ASD amounted to roughly 90% (Schaefer, 2016).

Other studies, however, provide a somewhat conflicting piece of data and attributed about 60% to the genes (Schaefer, 2016). Overall, locating genes or concrete genetic disorders that are directly responsible for ASD has been challenging. Schaefer (2016) argues that environmental factors might play a role in ASD development as well and gives an example of prenatal exposure to teratogens. These are defined as substances that cause congenital disabilities and encompass a wide range of physical agents, viruses, drugs, and chemicals (Schaefer, 2016). Thus, further research is required to determine the exact factors of ASD.

Common Misconceptions

Despite the lack of a comprehensive theoretical framework for the causes of ASD, researchers agree that the nature of the disease is innate. A person cannot be born neurotypical and develop autism due to unfortunate circumstances or through contact with an individual with ASD (Dunn, 2016). The condition is incurable, but its effects can vary in severity depending on the nursing approach used to manage it, as well as the levels of patient education (Autism Society, n.d.).

Despite the essential ASD facts being available to general populations, many people prefer to believe common myths and misconceptions about the disorder. Probably the most popular pseudoscientific theory argues that vaccines and immunizations cause autism (Autism Society, n.d.). It is vital that more people are aware of the fact that there is no tangible connection between autism and immunization. The situation can be addressed by providing general audiences with trustworthy sources explaining the nature, symptoms, and effects of ASD.

Conclusion

Autism (ASD) is a neurological disorder that manifests itself in children through speech delay, unwillingness to make eye contact, and a lack of reaction when being called by the name or being addressed. ASD has been rigorously researched, but there are issues that need further clarification. As of now, the general consensus is that around 1-2% of people have autism. However, a comprehensive set of data that would include all of the world countries has yet to be compiled.

Autism varies in symptoms and their severity, which matches the three primary types, specifically, autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder. The emergence of ASD is attributed to genetic influences and prenatal exposure to teratogens. The theory linking autism to vaccines has been debunked but remains relatively popular among people with poor health literacy. Thus, active education about ASD, its nature, symptoms, methods of managing it, and other important issues associated with ASD is required.

References

Autism Society. (n.d.) What is autism? Web.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Data & statistics on autism spectrum disorder. Web.

Dunn, A. (2019). Autism and self-advocacy. Web.

Schaefer, G. (2016). Clinical genetic aspects of autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17(2), 180.