Autism in kids: Here’s how to reduce the risk at an early stage!

Incidences of autism in kids during pregnancy has been increasing in India. Here's how you can reduce the risk of autism during pregnancy.
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Autism in kids: Here's how to reduce the risk at an early stage! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Chetna Jain Updated: 15 Apr 2023, 09:37 am IST
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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition where an individual has challenges with social skills, speech, and communication. They have repetitive behavior. It affects 0.2 percent of Indian babies. The numbers could be higher as many go unrecognized, especially in rural areas where access to health care may be inadequate. ASD has many subtypes, depending on which a person is treated. Individuals with ASD have varied strengths and disabilities or challenges. Their mental abilities vary from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some of them are geniuses in music, art, or mathematics. Most people with ASD will need support in daily life. Some could be completely independent.

Risk factors of autism

The causes of autism are uncertain. These can be a combination of environmental, biological, and genetic factors. ASD is often associated with gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and other attention issues.

autism in kids
Know the risk factors of autism in kids. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Risk factors for autism are as follows:

  • a sibling with ASD
  • family history of ASD in either parent.
  • genetic or chromosomal conditions like fragile X syndrome, epilepsy in any parent.
  • autoimmune disease in a parent.
  • parents more than 35 years of age
  • smoking and alcohol
  • infections during pregnancy like ( Rubella and CMV),
  • nutritional deficiencies like iron deficiency
  • medications like antiepileptics (Valproate), antidepressants (SSRI)

Boys are at a higher risk of autism

4 times more common in boys, here is why! This list is lengthy but not exhaustive.

  • preterm labour, low birth weight, gestational diabetes, complications during childbirth
  • some reports implicate the use of acetaminophen in pregnancy. it has not been validated by most institutions.
  • exposure to toxins found in plastic items (like bottles, cups, food storage containers), paint, new carpets, etc. These toxins include BPA, PBDEs, PCBs, PCDDs etc.
  • air pollution caused by traffic fumes
  • heavy metals like lead and mercury
  • prenatal stress and anxiety

How is the disease diagnosed?

ASD can be seen as early as 6-12 months but most commonly present at age 3 years. It usually lasts for life. Early detection and proper therapies can reduce disabilities. Some children have associated anxiety, depression, and ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder). Diagnosis is based on suspicion. It is difficult as there are no objective methods like medical tests or other tools. Diagnosis is done by health care personnel, usually, medical practitioners based on behaviour and development. Research is ongoing in identifying signs of autism in pregnancy. Certain MRI findings in the fetal brain like enlarged insula and amygdala may predict later autism. These are preliminary and need further substantiation.

How to reduce to risk of autism at an early stage?

Some steps can be taken to reduce the risk of autism but it’s unlikely that we can completely prevent it.

autism in kids
Here’s how you can reduce the risk of autism in kids. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Having said that, here are some ways that may help:

  • having children when parents age is 21 to 35 years.
  • use of safe medications for anxiety, stress, and epilepsy.
  • avoidance of smoking, alcohol, and toxins.
  • regular antenatal follow-up with your treating OBG and adequate control of diabetes.
  • identify risk factors for preterm delivery, and low birth weight and manage them in time.
  • don’t gain excessive weight and exercise regularly
  • adequate nutrition, supplements like folate, omega 3, vitamin D3, Iron, and calcium.
  • manage anxiety and stress.
  • breastfeed for a longer duration.
  • avoid fumes from salons, new homes, carpets, paints, and traffic.
  • try to eat organic.
  • don’t store food and water in plastic containers.
  • identify and treat infections in pregnancy.
  • even after all the precautions some children with ASD will still be born. Early diagnosis and proper therapies can help these kids lead better-quality life and reduce dependence.
  • Yoga, Meditation, Brain teasers, and Garbh Sanskar are some traditional therapies believed to minimise the birth of individuals with ASD.

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About the Author

Dr Chetna Jain is an experienced gynaecologist who takes advantage of the latest technological advances for quality care tailored to patients’ needs. She practices modern medicine based on the current guidelines and protocols laid by RCOG. With special expertise and interest in high-risk pregnancy, she has successfully treated a large number of Indian and international patients suffering from fibroids, ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancy, adenomyosis, endometrial polyps, tubal block, and infertility. She is the Director in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cloudnine Group of hospitals. ...Read More

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