If you’re not a medical expert, then the world of diseases, disorders, and other medical conditions are both complex and confusing. While it is easy to follow directions from a medical expert when it comes to treating certain types of medical conditions, the understanding of what a particular condition is, how it works, and arriving at the best strategy for curing or managing a condition all require years of hard work on the part of medical professionals to attain the high level of proficiency and expertise required. Beyond that, however, decades of rigorous medical research are required to generate the data that medical experts can reliably use and refer to when it comes to diagnosing and treating medical conditions.
However, the understanding that doctors have of the entire range of possible medical conditions and ailments is far from complete. There are still plenty of conditions for which research is still ongoing. There’s no cure for cancer, for example, and autism spectrum disorder is still being researched, with discoveries and changes to evaluation and diagnosis still occurring even in recent years.
So what is ASD? How does it affect the people that have it? What can be done about it?
The Autism Factor
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurophysiological condition. This means that it combines elements of physical symptoms, neural—or nerve-related—conditions, and conditions for a complex “mix” of different symptoms. ASD does have some physical symptoms. For example, one common symptom often accompanying other ASD symptoms are gastrointestinal, or digestive issues.
However, most of the symptoms that define ASD are behavioral. Where other conditions have physical effects, such as a heart condition that puts people’s cardio health at risk, or diabetes, which affects blood sugar levels, ASD’s most visible are on the ways people behave. Someone with ASD may, for example, be unable to maintain eye contact when speaking, or have an insistence of performing actions in a very specific, detailed way, with little tolerance for disrupting the established routine, resulting in irritation, or even hostility should such a disruption occur.
This has presented some real challenges for the treatment of ASD, especially since it created obstacles for the most important step of any treatment, accurate diagnosis.
The Spectrum Of Symptoms
It was not until the 1980s that formal medical texts finally recognized ASD as a distinct medical condition with its own class of diagnosis and treatment. Before the 1980s, many misdiagnoses of ASD occurred regularly because there were so many symptoms that it took some time for medical experts to realize they were all tied into a single condition. This is why, for example, Asperger’s Syndrome was known for decades, but only in the 1980s was it finally associated with ASD, as opposed to being a unique condition by itself.
In the same way, some of the more severe ASD symptoms often required medication, like antipsychotics. As a result of this response to antipsychotic medication, some ASD patients were misdiagnosed as people with schizophrenia and didn’t receive appropriate treatment for their condition, despite the antipsychotics repressing some of the more extreme symptoms.
When it was finally realized that ASD had a variety of symptoms at a huge range of intensities, this is when more focused and accurate diagnoses became possible. At first, ASD was broken into four categories according to severity, starting with Asperger’s syndrome at the “high functioning” end, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder at the severe, low functioning end.
Today, however, the four general categories have been removed, and ASD is considered a single condition, where the most important process is diagnosing each symptom on an individual basis, and then treating that person accordingly.
ASD is not a disease, so it can’t be “cleared up” with an antibiotic the way catching pneumonia can. It is a condition, like diabetes, or a heart condition, where adjustments have to be made to lifestyle, and certain precautions are taken to keep the symptoms manageable.
In the case of ASD, the type of treatment for symptom management depends mostly on the symptoms displayed and the severity of those symptoms. On the mildest end, people who would formerly have been classified as having Asperger’s Syndrome may require no medical treatment at all, as their symptoms result in behavior that is regarded as introverted or eccentric.
On the other side of the equation, some people may be unable to maintain eye contact when speaking or speak in a flat, monotone, robotic voice, or even be unable to perform normal tasks like eat food properly or tie shoes. In these cases, some behavioral therapy for training and self-regulation may be required at first to get these patients to perform normal, daily activities.
In other cases, some medication or other medical treatment may be advised. Antipsychotics are recommended for violent behavior, while stem cell therapy has been showing promise in treating some aspects of ASD, such as hostility or attention deficit.