The TrickyScribe: With a view to promoting awareness about Autism, April 2 is celebrated all across the world as World Autism Awareness Day; April, the month for autism awareness. The theme this year is Assistive Technologies, Active Participation. Last year the theme was ‘Empowering Women and Girls with Autism’.
World Autism Awareness Day aims at encouraging the Member States of the United Nations to take measures to raise awareness about autism, one of the five pervasive developmental disorders, in the areas under their respective jurisdictions.
A Neurodevelopmental Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which affects communication and socialisation; a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors.
Long Range of Symptoms
Due to the long range of the symptoms, the condition is now called autism spectrum disorder. There is no single known cause for autism spectrum disorder. It, however, is widely accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or functioning; often characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, and severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior. The symptoms do not imply sickness, fragility, or emotional disturbance.
Role of Environmental Factors
Role of environmental factors is a crucial area of study. Genetics strongly influence the risk for developing ASD. Genetics, however, do not account for all instances of autism alone. The increasing prevalence of autism has attracted interest in the study of the potential involvement of toxins in our environment. Prenatal exposure to the chemicals thalidomide and valproic acid, for example, has been linked to increased risk of autism.
Getting Better At Detection
Experts also hold that the increasing prevalence of ASD has more to do with better monitoring and diagnosis of the disorder, rather than a de facto rise in the number of children who have ASD. “We’re getting better at detecting under-unidentified populations. It’s not just that as if the numbers are rising. It’s more that everyone is going to the number that it should be,” Dr Ravi Bagadia, a pediatric neurologist practicing in Jaipur told The TrickyScribe.
More Than Mere Exposure to Chemicals
Study of environmental risk factors includes much more than exposure to chemicals. Experts use the term ‘environmental’ to refer to influences other than changes in a gene’s DNA. Note that scientists use the term “environment” to refer to much more than pollutants and other chemical exposures. Researchers use this term to refer to pretty much any influence beyond genetic mutation.
Autism risk factors appear to include such influences as parental age at infection during pregnancy, maternal nutrition, conception and prematurity. It can advance our understanding of the potential environmental influences that increase – or decrease – autism risk. None of these influences appears to “cause” or “prevent” autism by themselves. Rather they appear to influence risk in those genetically predisposed to the disorder. It appears that autism often results from a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers.
Epigenetics is the study of the factors that control gene expression. This involves chemicals that surround DNA in a gene. Environmental epigenetics looks at how outside influences modify these epigenetic chemicals and so affect genetic activity. Epigenetics gives us a way to look at the interaction between genes and environment.