Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Symptoms & Causes

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Symptoms & Causes

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects how people see the world and interact with others.  

People with ASD might find it hard to understand social rules, have conversations, or make friends. They may also be deeply passionate about certain topics (ie special interests) or repeat behaviours to regulate their emotions, which is known as stimming.  

Everyone with ASD is different. Some people might need a lot of help in their daily lives, while others can do most things independently. Autism is called a ‘spectrum’ because there are many types of autism, from mild to more noticeable.  

Similarly, people with autism can also have different levels of social and emotional intelligence.  

For example, research shows that autistic girls have higher social cognition and emotional intelligence compared to autistic boys. The sex differences may be apparent due to gender roles and expectations.  

It is important to find out if someone has ASD early so they can get the right help. Psychologists in Singapore may offer support that includes learning different ways to communicate, understanding how to act in social situations, and managing emotions.  

In this article, we will look into the symptoms and causes of autism spectrum disorder.  

Symptoms of Autism

The first (ie early) symptoms of autism may include a delay in language or social developmental milestones (eg saying the first words). 

Autism symptoms become evident during early childhood, usually between the ages of 12 and 24 months.  

However, the symptoms can appear earlier or later, as seen in women and gender non-conforming people. 

The DSM-5 splits the symptoms of ASD into two categories: 

  • Social interactions 
  • Patterns of behaviours 

Social Interactions

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can affect how people communicate and interact with others.  

Below are some common ways the symptoms might show up:  

  • People with ASD might not look directly at others.  
  • Autistic people may seem like they are not listening when someone is talking. However, they process sounds and words in their own way. 
  • Sharing what they like or how they feel with others might not happen often. Autistic people are usually not verbal and may prefer to interact through non-verbal communication, such as writing or playing.  
  • The person might talk a lot about things they really like without noticing if others are interested.  
  • Their facial expressions or the way they talk might not match what they’re trying to say. For example, an autistic person may smile while sharing bad news.  
  • Autistic people may find it hard to recognise or guess facial emotions and intentions behind other people’s behaviour.  
  • Most autistic people may also find it challenging to change the way they interact depending on the situation or audience. For example, they may interact with their boss like they do with their family members.  

Patterns of Behaviour

Below are some commonly identified symptoms of the second category: 

  • Repetitive behaviours: Repeatedly engaging in the same actions or rituals (usually to regulate emotions). Examples include rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping.  
  • Echolalia: Frequently repeating words or phrases heard from others, often without the intention of communication. 
  • Intense interests: Showing extremely focused and often exclusive interest in specific topics, objects, or activities. This is also known as a special interest in autistic communities. 
  • Routine dependence: Experiencing significant distress (eg feeling irritated or emotional) over minor changes in daily routines or schedules.  
  • Sensory sensitivity: Having abnormal reactions to sensory inputs. These reactions can include over-sensitivity to sounds, lights, textures, or temperatures or under-reactivity to sensory stimuli, such as not feeling pain or temperature in a typical way. 
  • Social communication challenges: Difficulty in understanding and using verbal and non-verbal communication. Some examples include trouble making eye contact and difficulties in reading facial expressions or body language. 
  • Sleep disturbances: Experiencing problems with sleep, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or irregular sleep patterns.  
  • Irritability: Showing signs of being easily frustrated or having mood swings. The changes in mood are often due to the challenges faced in daily life. 

Read: What is Wrong With Me? Why You May Feel This Way & 10 Ways to Feel Better 

Causes of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) does not have a single primary cause. The condition usually arises due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 

1. Genetic Influences on Autism

If a family member has autism, the chances of another family member (eg children) having autism increases.  

A genetic component has a major role in developing autism. However, this does not mean that someone may have autism by default due to genetics.  

Moreover, genes may affect brain development, especially in the way brain cells communicate. Brain development plays a primary role in the severity of symptoms.

2. Environmental Influences on Autism

The environment also contributes to the development of ASD.  

Exposure to certain substances during pregnancy, such as heavy metals, environmental toxins, and specific medications like valproic acid or thalidomide, has been associated with an increased risk of ASD.  

Professional Support for Autism

Online psychologists in Singapore can provide the right support to improve the quality of life and functioning of autistic people.  

Based on the manifestations and severity of the symptoms, different types of psychotherapy can help. 

Some of these include: 

  • Talk therapy: Therapists in Singapore may teach social skills and coping methods to prevent the person from engaging in self-harming behaviours. Therapy can also help you learn how to make friends and discover joy in life 
  • Play therapy: During play therapy, psychologists may use play to communicate with children. This therapy helps children express their thoughts.  
  • Occupational therapy: Therapists may focus on developing their client’s daily living skills like dressing, eating, and working. 
  • Physical therapy: Aims to improve motor skills, balance, and coordination. 
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapy, along with talk therapy, helps in improving communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal). 

Moreover, self-care methods such as massages, weighted clothing and meditation can also help in: 

However, it is important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another.  

Try to have an open conversation with your psychologist to explore what type of therapeutic approach works best for you.  

You can follow certain simple steps like reviewing profiles to choose the right counsellor. If you find that you are not comfortable, we encourage you to change your therapist! 

Finding the right therapist may take some time, but it is foundational as developing a good relationship with your therapist can directly lead to positive therapy outcomes! 

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)