Is Autism a single disorder or there is more to it?

Dr Arun kumar Sharma

Consultant Neurologist

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) comprises a vast array of manifestation like, lack of eye contact, impairment of social skills, stereo-typed mannerisms, maladaptation, and challenges with verbal and nonverbal communication. According to the Centres for Disease Control, autism prevalence is estimated to be 1 in 59 children in the United States today.

Worldwide, the prevalence of ASD is one per 160 children (World Health Organization 2014). ASD is a new field in the Arab world. The exact number of confirmed cases of ASD is unknown, and available reports suggest that the prevalence of ASD is 1.4, 29, and 59 per 10,000 children, respectively, in Oman (Al-Farsi et al. 2011), the United Arab Emirates, 2007), and Saudi Arabia (Aljarallah et al. 2006). The lower incidence of ASD might be due to the shortage of specialists to diagnose ASD properly and the lack of parents’ awareness to recognize symptoms and seek diagnostic clarification. There is a significant paucity of data on prevalence or scientific research in the field of ASD in Arab countries. With advent of new healthcare facilities, neuropsychiatric professionals and improvement in the collective social acceptance of the disorder the diagnosis of autism is certainly going to be more evidence- based and numerically approximate the worldwide prevalence. The Middle East, when it comes to making a diagnosis of autism fares not so well compared to the Western countries as per the available data. The parents still evince little inclination in acknowledging that their child may have an autistic issue. When told by a neurologist/psychiatrist there first reaction is to erupt in an emotion rage followed by a long duration of denial. This goes on to prove that stigma around the condition is almost as pervasive as the disorder itself. In order to improve the diagnosis and treatment several factors must be considered, 1) better availability of clinical psychologists, autism centres, cognitive behavioural therapy experts, 2) involvement of neurologists in the treatment of autistic individuals since ASD is primarily a malfunctioning of neuronal synapses and regulation of several neurotransmitters namely, GABA, Serotonin, Noradrenaline and Acetylcholine, 3) a paradigm shift in the way the society perceives and reacts to freshly made diagnosis of autism.

MD, DM (Neurology), PhD (Neurology), FRSM (UK)
Former Professor of Neurology (PGI Chandigarh)
Medical Director and Specialist Neurologist
Emirates Hospital Clinic
Conrad tower, Dubai