In 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that about one in 150 Aussies are living with autism spectrum disorder. The majority are diagnosed during childhood and live with the condition for their entire lives.
There is no cure for autism, but many people are finding ways to live with their diagnosis by utilising alternative treatments like cannabis for autism and new behavioural/occupational therapeutic approaches.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is categorised as a “persistent developmental disorder” that starts in early childhood and lasts an entire lifespan. ASD can affect how a person acts, sleeps, socialises, and experiences their own environment.
You may have heard the term “spectrum” in conjunction with autism. This is used to describe the wide variety and severity of symptoms of ASD. Some people are mildly affected and can continue life as normal, while others are almost nonverbal and require assistance with daily activities. No two cases are exactly alike.
ASD affects more children than adults and more males than females. The number of diagnoses is increasing and, although there is no definitive reason for the higher numbers, condition awareness and new research may play a part.
There is currently no known cure for autism. Symptom management, skill development, and support are often at the core of autism treatment.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
In early childhood, the signs of autism can mimic normal development, proving difficult to diagnose until around age two and a half to three. In some cases, symptoms are unrecognisable until much later in life and a person is diagnosed in adulthood.
Those with ASD often have difficulty with social communication and interactions. They may display repetitive behaviours and have differences in learning styles, the way they move, or their ability to pay attention.
There are many signs of autism, but some of the most common include:
Avoiding eye contact
Prefering to be alone
Not using common gestures like pointing or waving
Trouble expressing needs and emotions
Repetitive behaviour like walking on tip-toes or flapping arms
Discomfort in social situations
No two cases are exactly the same and no single, specific test exists for diagnosing ASD. Instead, autism is diagnosed through behavioural observance and a number of standardised tests performed by a psychiatrist or paediatrician.
Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Due to the wide spectrum of ASD and the complexity of the condition, there are likely many causes that have not yet been discovered. Currently, most cases point to genetics and possibly environmental factors.
Autism is caused by a difference in the rate of development in the brain. In short, this means that it’s directly related to your genes. If you have a family history of ASD, you are more likely to carry the gene yourself.
Those with conditions like Rett syndrome, tuberculosis sclerosis, and fragile X syndrome are at a much higher risk of also having ASD or autism-like symptoms. Some of these conditions are physically debilitating and may hinder a person's ability to perform daily tasks.
Autism is found in people around the world, regardless of race and ethnicity, culture, or economic background.
Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Just because a person is diagnosed with autism doesn’t mean they’re destined to have any less quality of life. There are many routes of treatment including symptom management and alternative therapies for autism, like cannabis oil.
While there is no cure, there are a wide variety of treatment options. The type of treatment that’s recommended depends on the severity of symptoms, age, and social factors like access to therapy centres. The goal of treatment is to maximise the person's quality of life and ability to thrive in society.
Early intervention with children is important, though there are still many options if you are an adult diagnosed with autism. Treatment for children focuses on developing social skills, critical thinking, communication, and behavioural skills during their preschool years.
Alternative therapies like cannabis for autism are on the rise, even in children. A placebo-controlled study showed favourable results for cannabis in autism treatment. New research has also shown a possible link between endocannabinoid deficiency and autism.
Living with ASD
Though diagnosis can be difficult and there is no known cure, a combination of symptom management, therapy, support from loved ones, and alternative treatments for autism, including cannabis, can be enough for a person with ASD to live a healthy and fulfilling life.