Autism Spectrum Disorder: Classification, diagnosis and therapy

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Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, Asperger's syndrome (AS) and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). The new diagnostic criteria of ASD focuses on two core domains: social communication impairment and restricted interests/repetitive behaviors. The prevalence of ASD has been steadily increasing over the past two decades, with current estimates reaching up to 1 in 36 children. Hereditary factors, parental history of psychiatric disorders, pre-term births, and fetal exposure to psychotropic drugs or insecticides have all been linked to higher risk of ASD. Several scales such as the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), The Autism Spectrum Disorder–Observation for Children (ASD-OC), The Developmental, Dimensional, and Diagnostic Interview (3di), are available to aid in better assessing the behaviors and symptoms associated with ASD. Nearly 75% of ASD patients suffer from comorbid psychiatric illnesses or conditions, which may include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, Tourette syndrome, and others. Both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions are available for ASD. Pharmacological treatments include psychostimulants, atypical antipsychotics, antidepressants, and alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonists. These medications provide partial symptomatic relief of core symptoms of ASD or manage the symptoms of comorbid conditions. Non-pharmacological interventions, which show promising evidence in improving social interaction and verbal communication of ASD patients, include music therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and social behavioral therapy. Hormonal therapies with oxytocyin or vasopressin receptor antagonists have also shown some promise in improving core ASD symptoms. The use of vitamins, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements in conjunction with pharmacological and behavioral treatment appear to have some effect in symptomatic improvement in ASD, though additional studies are needed to confirm these benefits. Developing novel disease-modifying therapies may prove to be the ultimate intervention for sustained improvement of symptoms in ASD.

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