Autism – also referred to as autism spectrum disorder ̶ constitutes a diverse group of conditions related to development of the brain.
About 1 in 100 children has autism.
Characteristics may be detected in early childhood, but autism is often not diagnosed until much later.
The abilities and needs of autistic people vary and can evolve over time. While some people with autism can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.
Evidence-based psychosocial interventions can improve communication and social skills, with a positive impact on the well-being and quality of life of both autistic people and their caregivers.
Care for people with autism needs to be accompanied by actions at community and societal levels for greater accessibility, inclusivity and support.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a diverse group of conditions. They are characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. Other characteristics are atypical patterns of activities and behaviours, such as difficulty with transition from one activity to another, a focus on details and unusual reactions to sensations.
The abilities and needs of autistic people vary and can evolve over time. While some people with autism can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Autism often has an impact on education and employment opportunities. In addition, the demands on families providing care and support can be significant. Societal attitudes and the level of support provided by local and national authorities are important factors determining the quality of life of people with autism.
Characteristics of autism may be detected in early childhood, but autism is often not diagnosed until much later.
People with autism often have co-occurring conditions, including epilepsy, depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as challenging behaviours such as difficulty sleeping and self-injury. The level of intellectual functioning among autistic people varies widely, extending from profound impairment to superior levels.
It is estimated that worldwide about 1 in 100 children has autism (1). This estimate represents an average figure, and reported prevalence varies substantially across studies. Some well-controlled studies have, however, reported figures that are substantially higher. The prevalence of autism in many low- and middle-income countries is unknown.
Available scientific evidence suggests that there are probably many factors that make a child more likely to have autism, including environmental and genetic factors.
Available epidemiological data conclude that there is no evidence of a causal association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and autism. Previous studies suggesting a causal link were found to be filled with methodological flaws (2,3).
There is also no evidence to suggest that any other childhood vaccine may increase the risk of autism. Evidence reviews of the potential association between the preservative thiomersal and aluminium adjuvants contained in inactivated vaccines and the risk of autism strongly concluded that vaccines do not increase the risk of autism.
Assessment and care
A broad range of interventions, from early childhood and across the life span, can optimize the development, health, well-being and quality of life of autistic people. Timely access to early evidence-based psychosocial interventions can improve the ability of autistic children to communicate effectively and interact socially. The monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child health care is recommended.
It is important that, once autism has been diagnosed, children, adolescents and adults with autism and their carers are offered relevant information, services, referrals, and practical support, in accordance with their individual and evolving needs and preferences.
The health-care needs of people with autism are complex and require a range of integrated services, that include health promotion, care and rehabilitation. Collaboration between the health sector and other sectors, particularly education, employment and social care, is important.
Interventions for people with autism and other developmental disabilities need to be designed and delivered with the participation of people living with these conditions. Care needs to be accompanied by actions at community and societal levels for greater accessibility, inclusivity and support.
Source : WHO
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