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Is Autism Natural: The Natural Aspect of Autism

Dive into the truth behind "is autism natural", exploring causes, cultural perspectives, and research.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
April 11, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Autism

Autism is a topic that spans various aspects of human health, development, and societal interactions. This section provides a definition of autism and highlights its key characteristics, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the condition.

Definition of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Although some individuals with ASD have known differences such as a genetic condition, other causes are not yet known. Scientists believe there are multiple causes of ASD, including genetic and environmental factors, but the exact cause remains a topic of ongoing research.

ASD typically begins before the age of 3 and can last throughout a person’s life. The onset of symptoms varies, with some children displaying signs within the first 12 months of life and others not showing symptoms until 24 months of age or later.

Characteristics of Autism

People with ASD often experience challenges in social communication and interaction and may display restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They may also have unique ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. These characteristics can present significant challenges in daily life.

Autism manifests differently in each individual, with each person having a unique set of strengths and challenges. Some autistic people can speak, whereas others are nonverbal or minimally verbal and communicate in other ways. The condition can also present with or without intellectual disabilities, and the level of support needed varies from person to person.

Interestingly, research has shown that boys get diagnosed with autism four times more often than girls. Autism may present differently in girls and boys, with girls potentially having a more subtle presentation of symptoms, fewer social and communication challenges, and fewer repetitive behaviors [2].

Autism is a lifelong condition, and an autistic person's needs, strengths, and challenges may change over time. Early intervention and therapies can make a significant difference in a person's skills and outcomes later in life.

In understanding whether autism is natural, it's crucial to consider that the term 'natural' is subjective. Autism is a part of human diversity and is considered natural by many people. However, it also poses challenges that require societal understanding and support. The exploration of autism, its causes, characteristics, and impact on individuals and society, continues to be a vital aspect of research and discourse.

Causes of Autism

When it comes to understanding the causes of autism, it's important to note that there isn't a singular cause. Research suggests that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These factors increase the risk of autism and shape the type of autism a child will develop. However, increased risk is not the same as a cause since some gene changes linked to autism can also be present in individuals without the disorder, and not everyone exposed to an environmental risk factor for autism will develop the disorder.

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors play a significant role in the development of autism. A 2019 study of over 2 million people estimated ASD's heritability to be approximately 80%. These genetic factors include gene variants. Some studies suggest that specific gene variants can contribute to autism risk, with a growing number of rare gene variants that doctors could potentially look for.

Environmental Factors

Aside from genetics, environmental factors may also play a role in the development of autism. These include exposure to certain infections or medications during pregnancy, very low birth weight, maternal obesity, and older parental age at the time of conception. However, more research is needed to confirm these [4].

It's important to clarify that there are certain myths related to the causes of autism that have been debunked by scientific studies. One such myth is the claim that childhood neglect or MMR vaccines are responsible for causing autism. These claims are not based on medical science and have been refuted by multiple studies.

In conclusion, the causes of autism are complex and multifaceted, involving both genetic and environmental factors. It's a naturally occurring condition that can be influenced by a variety of factors but is not caused by any single factor alone. The ongoing research in this field aims to deepen our understanding of these factors and their interplay, and to further improve the support and interventions available for individuals with autism.

Diagnosis and Prevalence

Understanding autism requires a deep dive into how it is diagnosed and its prevalence in the global population.

Diagnosing Autism

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be challenging as there is no medical test, such as a blood test, for diagnosis. Medical professionals typically observe the child's behavior and development to diagnose this condition. Signs of autism, such as challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication, generally appear by age 2 or 3. In the U.S., the average age of diagnosis is around 5 years.

The diagnosis of ASD is categorized into three levels based on the amount of support a person may require: level 1, level 2, and level 3. Despite ASD being detectable at 18 months or younger, many children receive a diagnosis when they're older. This delay in diagnosis may result in individuals with ASD not receiving the necessary early intervention [1].

Level Support Required
Level 1 Requires Support
Level 2 Requires Substantial Support
Level 3 Requires Very Substantial Support

Early intervention is crucial, and delays in diagnosis can result in delayed access to fitting support and services.

Prevalence of Autism

The prevalence of autism has seen a considerable increase over the past few decades. Current diagnostic practices are linked to a 20-fold increase in the reported prevalence of ASD over the last 30 years [6].

This rise in prevalence may be attributed to increased awareness, better understanding, and changes in the diagnostic criteria for ASD. However, more research is needed to fully understand the factors contributing to this increase.

In conclusion, diagnosing autism involves evaluating a child's behavior and development. No single medical test for autism exists, and diagnosis is based on clinical judgment. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for improving outcomes.

Autism Spectrum and Stigma

When discussing autism, it's vital to recognize its nature as a spectrum disorder and the impact of societal stigma on those diagnosed with it. Understanding these aspects helps to combat misconceptions and encourages acceptance and support for autistic individuals.

Spectrum of Autism

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is not a singular condition with a uniform set of symptoms or experiences. It's a "spectrum" disorder, meaning it encompasses a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. Individuals on the autism spectrum may differ greatly from one another, with some exhibiting mild symptoms and others having severe disabilities.

The autism spectrum accommodates a range of neurodiverse individuals, each with unique characteristics, abilities, and challenges. This diversity underscores the natural variation in human cognitive development and dispels the myth of a 'one-size-fits-all' understanding of autism.

Impact of Stigma

Despite increasing awareness about autism, stigma continues to pose significant challenges for autistic individuals and their families. According to the NCBI, stigma can reduce well-being and increase the presence of camouflaging behaviors, which mask autistic traits.

Poor understanding of autism often leads to negative views of visible autistic traits. This stigma can also limit access to healthcare and support services for autistic people and their families. Autistic individuals who camouflage their autistic traits may face poorer mental health and increased fatigue.

The stigma associated with autism isn't just a personal issue; it's a societal one. It's rooted in misconceptions, misunderstandings, and stereotypes that society holds about autism. By dispelling these myths and promoting understanding, society can help to reduce the impact of stigma and support the well-being of autistic individuals.

Efforts to reduce stigma should focus on promoting understanding and acceptance of autistic individuals. This includes educating the public about the nature of autism, dispelling common myths, and advocating for the rights of autistic individuals. By doing so, society can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

Research on Autism

Exploring the question, "is autism natural?", requires an understanding of the latest scientific research on autism. This research is mainly focused on the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of autism and the evolution of its diagnostic criteria.

Genetic and Environmental Studies

Research suggests that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These factors increase the risk of autism and shape the type of autism a child will develop. However, increased risk is not the same as a cause since some gene changes linked to autism can also be present in individuals without the disorder, and not everyone exposed to an environmental risk factor for autism will develop the disorder.

Genetic factors include gene variants, with a 2019 study of over 2 million people estimating ASD's heritability to be approximately 80%. There's also growing evidence that specific gene variants can contribute to autism risk, with a growing number of rare gene variants that doctors could potentially look for.

Environmental factors that may play a role in developing autism include exposure to certain infections or medications during pregnancy, very low birth weight, maternal obesity, and older parental age at the time of conception. However, more research is needed to confirm these.

Diagnostic Criteria Evolution

The current diagnostic practices are linked to a 20-fold increase in the reported prevalence of ASD over the last 30 years. The categorical diagnosis of ASD is currently obtained by pass/fail scoring of seven signs (i.e., three social and four repetitive), mostly quantitative (e.g., less socially-oriented behaviors), rather than qualitative (those that can be recognized).

The DSM-5 definition of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) merged the PDD subgroups inter alia, due to their poor inter-judge reliability and instability over time.

There has been no single cause or pathophysiology found to be unique to all those with autism, but current diagnostic criteria are linked to nearly two hundred genetic and environmental reported causes. The current DSM-5 criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis (ASD) allow hundreds of varied patterns of deficits in social communication and social interaction, and myriad patterns of restricted and repetitive activities and interests.

Some researchers propose disentangling autism from ASD by adopting a new autism diagnosis, reducing the heterogeneity of causes and symptoms linked to autism, or establishing a new causal model of autism. These proposals assert that the heterogeneity of symptoms and causes is a core problem for autism research and view the current ASD criteria as an impediment to the discovery of meaningful categories of neurodevelopmental disorders.

As research on autism continues to evolve, so too will our understanding of this complex disorder. Today's findings may pave the way for improved diagnostic criteria and more effective interventions for those affected by autism.

Cultural Perspectives on Autism

Understanding cultural perspectives on autism is crucial for promoting acceptance and reducing stigma associated with this natural neurodevelopmental variation. In this section, we explore the views within the Korean-American community and the role that churches can play in fostering understanding and support.

Korean-American Community Views

The Korean-American community's cultural beliefs about autism greatly influence their perceptions and attitudes towards individuals with autism and their families. These beliefs often contribute to discomfort, stigma, and discrimination, which can impact both families' and professionals' understanding of autism and their care for children.

In this community, there is often hesitance to discuss autism and other developmental disorders. This reluctance stems from fear of pity, condescension, and negative judgment. Consequently, these attitudes can result in delays in seeking help, diagnosis, and intervention.

Certain beliefs about autism in the Korean-American community include attributing it to family wrongdoings, curses, mental illness, and impaired genetic lineages. This fear of genetic abnormalities often results in avoidance of marrying into families with disabilities.

Role of Churches

Churches have a significant role to play in changing these perspectives within the Korean-American community. Church leaders believe that churches should be involved in the lives of children with autism by offering a warm and embracing environment. They also perceive the role of the church as educating the congregation and facilitating supportive social interactions with children with autism.

Church-based outreach and community-wide programs focused on increasing awareness and acceptance of autism are essential for reducing stigma and marginalization. These programs should aim to provide education, support, and referral services, leading to a more inclusive and understanding community.

In conclusion, addressing the cultural perspectives on autism, particularly in communities where misconceptions and stigma are prevalent, is a crucial aspect of autism advocacy. By fostering understanding and acceptance, we can ensure that autism, being a natural variation in human neurodevelopment, is recognized and respected as such.

References

[1]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

[2]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

[3]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-causes-autism

[4]: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-causes-autism

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8992913/

[6]: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-020-0748-y

[7]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10185896/

[8]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7008392/

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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