Autism or Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. There are many causes for autism in kids and symptoms may vary from child to child. In some kids the symptoms are very mild while in certain cases severe symptoms are high.
Around 50% of the parents of children with autism notice signs by the time their child reaches 12 months and the remaining notice problems by 2 years. Children with ASD may have symptoms throughout their lives, but it’s possible for them to get better as they get older. Based on the most recent report, ASD is estimated to affect about 1 in 54 children, with boys being more likely to have ASD than girls.
Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder:
Kids with Autism have difficulty with social communication, interaction and behavior. Here is the list of behaviors that are noticed in children diagnosed with Autism. These Symptoms may vary from person to person.
1) Social communication and interaction
Children with autism find it difficult to interact with people. This is one of the most common symptoms of ASD. You might notice these signs by the age of 10 to 12 months. Other social skill symptoms may also include:
- Give no response or little response when someone calls their name.
- Less or no eye contact.
- Don’t like cuddling or holding. They don’t stretch their arms to be picked up.
- They prefer to be alone.
- Difficulty in speaking or speech delay. (Tips to improve speech delay)
- Their words generally don’t match with their facial expression and gestures.
- Speak with unusual tones like robotic, flat or singsong voices.
- Can’t start a conversation or be a part of one.
- Often speak on their favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond.
- Doesn’t express their feelings and emotions.
2) Behavioral symptoms
Children with autism spectrum disorder may have repetitive patterns of behavior. Some of the common behavioral symptoms are as follows:
- Repetitive behavior like repeating words or phrases, hand flapping or rocking.
- Aggressive behavior. Perform activities that could cause self-harm.
- Easily get upset with slight changes in a routine.
- Lack of coordination and confidence.
- Eat only specific foods or are generally fussy eaters.
- Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
- Over sensitivity to touch, light and sound.
- Impulsiveness. Usually act without thinking.
Kids with ASD may also find it difficult to sleep. Despite so many challenges, they may have some strength, like they have an ability to learn things in detail and remember information for a long period of time. They are also strong visual and auditory learners.
Causes for autism:
However the exact causes for Autism is still unknown. There is no single cause, research shows that genes and environment can act together to affect the child’s development in the may that leads to ASD. Some most suspected causes or risk factors for Autism include.
- Having a sibling with ASD. When one child is diagnosed with ASD, the next child to come along has about a 20% greater risk of developing autism than normal.
- Research shows that older parents have a greater likelihood of having a child with autism.
- Kids with certain genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome are most likely to have ASD.
- Exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins.
- Low birth weight.
- Premature birth and maternal use of valproic acid or thalidomide during pregnancy can also be one of the causes for autism.
If you notice any of the above symptoms mentioned above , you must go for a proper diagnosis as recommended by the doctor. While there is no specific laboratory test to determine autism, a team of child psychologist, occupational therapists and speech pathologist do screening and evaluation which may include:
- Medical exam like blood test, hearing test
- Gathering information about the symptoms that exist, and from when these symptoms started.
- Whether these symptoms are affecting their day to day life, or they find it difficult to socialize.
- Family history of ASD.
- May also involve interviews or questionnaires for family members, teachers and others close to the child to know the causes for autism
Treatment and therapies:
While there is no cure for ASD, currently available treatments can help reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.
- A doctor may use medication to treat some symptoms like irritability, aggression, repetitive behavior, hyperactivity, anxiety and attention problems.
- Behavioral, psychological, educational, or skill-building therapy to build self confidence.
- Speech-language pathologists are therapists who specialize in treating language problems and speech disorders. They are a key part of the autism treatment team.
- Find an autism support group. Sharing information and experiences can help children with ASD and/or their caregivers learn about treatment options and ASD-related programs.
Healthy ASD diet for kids:
It is very important to feed kids a nutritious diet from the early years itself, even more important if the child is suffering from ASD. Along with the treatment and therapies a healthy ASD diet for kids including essential nutrients is must, which may help in reducing the symptoms. Experts say whatever is good for the brain is likely to be good for ASD and speech delay. Below is the list of essential nutrients and foods recommended as a part of a healthy ASD diet
Protein is an important part of a healthy diet. It builds, maintains and repairs body tissues. It is also essential for brain health and plays an important role in producing neurotransmitters (brain chemical). It’s also integral in forming enzymes and hormones in the body. From digestion to immunity, from hair to nails, everything requires protein. Some foods rich in protein are: nuts and seeds, egg and dairy products.(how to get a protein rich diet?)
Omega 3 fatty acids:
Research has established a link between omega 3 fatty acids and brain development in early childhood. These healthy fats have amazing brain boosting power and play a vital role in enhancing memory and attention span. Fish & walnuts are a very good source of omega 3. (Why is Omega 3 important for your kids?)
In our body, Magnesium is responsible for nerve transmission and nerve-muscle coordination. In other words, it protects against the excessive excitement in a child (which can be traumatic). There is enough research going on how Magnesium can help in fixing or preventing neurological disorders. Banana, avocado, pumpkin seeds and spinach are some food sources of magnesium.(what are some disorders in which magnesium can help?)
Zinc is considered an essential nutrient which means that the body cannot produce or store it. For this reason, it is very important to add zinc in your daily diet. Zinc is required for proper brain function and development, immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing. Some food sources rich in zinc are: nuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach, chicken, shrimp and kidney beans. (How can zinc help with hair and skin health?)
All the nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashew, peanuts and hazelnuts are rich in vitamin E and help in boosting memory. They are also antioxidants which protect against cell damage. Walnuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and are a valuable substance for brain function, memory and thinking abilities. This fatty acid also encourages cognitive functions. ( best nuts for protein)
Apart from nuts, seeds like flex, chia, melon, sesame and pumpkins also contain powerful antioxidants like vitamin E that protect the brain from free radical damage. Sunflower seeds impact overall mood and mental processing powers and therefore it is considered a brain boosting snack. Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, copper, and much higher in zinc than other seeds, which help in increasing concentration and memory. One of the easiest to feed brain boosting foods for kids.
Pure cocoa powder (unsweetened) contains brain boosting components as it is packed with a large number of antioxidants molecules, the main is epicatechin helpful to improve cognition in studies. Hence cocoa powder is also an important brain development food for children. (More benefits of cocoa powder)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. It is known to reduce anxiety and stress. Moreover, it increases acetylcholine levels which support better memory, mental focus and intelligence. Ashwagandha also improves communication between nerve cells and stimulates the body’s capacity to heal any nervous system damage.
Brahmi is a superfood for the brain and is believed to sharpen the brain by protecting cells and increasing chemicals associated with learning and memory. It has shown to improve spatial learning and retaining power in kids. That is why in older times, kids were often given Brahmi powder with ghee/honey. This would increase their focus and attention, while keeping them calm and distressed.
Shankhapushpi is a traditional remedy for increasing the functioning of the brain. The powerful antioxidants and flavonoids present in it improve the memory capacity, focus, concentration, calmness, alertness of an individual. Since it is a brain tonic and stimulator, people taking shankhapushpi have improved memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities.
SCIENTIFICALLY proven studies conducted by NIH
There are many researches by NIH that support the benefits of Ayurvedic herbs in kid’s brain and speech development. Few are as below.
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