Autism is neurodevelopmental disorder with an onset in early childhood, characterized by repetitive behaviors, impaired social, communicative and cognitive development. Previously autism was thought to be a rare disorder, but recent studies revealed the prevalence of autism at the level of approximately 1 in 68. Some people mistook this as an increase in autism, but this represents rather improvement of early diagnostics and awareness rising.
It was initially described in 1940s by Leo Kanner (1943) and Hans Asperger (1944). Already from their pioneering works was evident considerable variability in terms of deficits that are present in patients suffering from autism. While Kanner described children with severe deficits in communication development, Asperger described patients with mild communication disorders.
Thus, autism is not a uniform disease, but rather neurodevelopmental disorder with variable extent of clinical manifestations. Because of this, not it is termed autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This means that, despite common core deficits, each child with autism is unique. Approximately half of children with autism show low or absent mental retardation as reflected in an IQ higher than 70. Their abilities allow them to achieve remarkable progress in math, music, art, poetry and even to get PhD degree in psychology.
Social-cognitive theories of ASDs suggests that principle deficits arise from innate lack of responsiveness to social stimuli. Eye-tracking studies showed that patients with ASD spend less time looking at the core features of the faces. In line with these findings, neuroimaging studies revealed abnormalities in the neural circuits underlying face processing. Thus, reduced attention and interest to surrounding people starting from early age leads to less experience in socializing and therefore impaired efficiency of information processing by corresponding neuronal circuits.
However, several scientific studies revealed that under certain conditions, patients with ASDs can show more normative levels of functional activity in key brain regions. Thus, it could be possible to overcome decreased responsiveness to social stimuli if we will use special approaches to enhance neuronal activity and create more engaging environment for children with ASDs.
Promising approach allowing to support synaptic connectivity and enhance neuronal activity is administration of neural stem cells and stem cell-derived extracts containing trophic and growth factors that are involved in regulation of neuronal development. Early beginning of stem cell therapy in combination with friendly, engaging environment and individualized education programs can significantly improve learning, communication skills and social behavior of children with ASDs.