On World Autism Awareness Day we talked to Dr. Cánovas Martínez, Neuropediatrician, to find out how this disorder is diagnosed, how we should treat it and the importance of raising awareness about it.
While a few years ago there was talk of one autistic person for every 150 people, nowadays it is close to 1% of society. It is a disease that is closely monitored by specialists in Neuropediatrics, since its early diagnosis, which can be made from 8-10-12 months of age, allows early treatment, with a better final prognosis.
The diagnosis of autism is practically clinical; according to Dr. Cánovas, it is even clinical in its entirety.
All or almost all autisms are implicated in other pathologies, such as, for example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (which is why sometimes patients with autism improve with medications for this pathology, enough for a knowledgeable professional to try treatment).
In fact, since the DSM-V (an American diagnostic manual) it is considered that autistic people can have ADHD. They used to be exclusive.
Causes of autism
Although we do not know it well, autism is most likely due to problems of neurotransmitter abnormalities, which mainly affect emotional and social relationships. In some cases, it even causes mobility difficulties.
Types of autism
Dr. Cánovas explains that according to its prognosis and characteristics, there are different types of autism:
- High-ability autisms, which can even go to university and only have emotional and social problems.
- Severely affected autisms, who do not even speak, with an evident psychomotor delay.
Furthermore, autism can be primary (without any visible brain lesion), or secondary (generally due to cerebral palsy secondary to prematurity, fetal distress, etc.). While the latter case can be explained -more or less-, when autism is primary, there are only theories about its causes which are not definitive.
What seems clear is that there is a key genetic component, and that autism patients very often have a family history of other neurological diseases.
Diagnosis of autism
There are several levels of diagnosis: from primary care to specialized care.
Since there are still no biological markers that can lead us to a diagnosis, it is very important that expert professionals (neuropediatricians, psychologists or psychiatrists) versed in this problem are the ones who finally arrive at the diagnosis.
At the genetic level, those of us who are in charge of the diagnosis hope to have a biological weapon that will give us the answer to a quick diagnosis; but this is not yet the case.
Raising awareness about autism
Autism is a disease that, due to its high level of incidence (1%), we should consider trying to integrate into society. Those with high capacities have fewer or no problems, but with those who have severe psychomotor impairment (those secondary to other pathologies, etc.) we have to try to integrate them in normal schools, in specific classrooms, and living together with normal classmates. Precisely this would make society more aware of this disease, which a century ago was hidden at home as if it were a special problem.
Autism must come to light and society must commit to its treatment and acceptance. In Spain we are still in diapers, and many autonomous regions do not have any program for its treatment.