29 December 2008

AUTISM - The Basic Facts

Autism is a very complicated subject. There are heated debates and fears over the causes. There are arguments over treatments and cures. It's a messy subject with a whole lot of information and misinformation to sort through.

Let's start from the beginning to try and understand autism...

First, there is "Austism Spectrum Disorders." It's an all-encompassing phrase for a group of different developmental problems. Some of these "problems" within the realm of ASD include Autism, Asperger's, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Now let's talk about one of these - autism. It is defined as a serious ASD that shows up in a child by the age of three. There are several kinds of autism, all of which affect the child's ability to communicate and interact with other people. About 4 or 5 out of every 1000 children in the USA have been diagnosed with some type of autism.

At this time there is no "cure" for autism but early intervention and continual treatment can help lessen it's impact on the child's life. Be wary of anyone claiming to cure autism - they might offer ways to help the child handle life better, but they do not have a cure. They are hoping you are desparate and are out for your money!

The symptoms of autism affect the ability to interact with others, language skills, and behavior. Autism varies in severity and each person's symptoms are different from the next. People with severe autism do not interact or communicate with others at all.

The social skills of someone with autism might include failure to respond when their name is called, poor or no eye contact, doesn't react to hearing sounds or words, resists physical contact such as touching, holding, hugging or cuddling and prefers to be alone during play. They don't point to pictures during the reading of a story book. This lack of interaction affects their future language skills.

Language is also affected by autism. Symptoms include delayed speech (first words or short phrases come late), verbal skills regress after previously acquiring them, doesn't look at person they are talking to, unusual speech tone or rhythm, can't maintain a conversation, repeats words or phrases but doesn't understand what's being said, and asks questions or make statements repetitively.

The behavior that is seen in people with autism includes repetitive movements, routine or ritual movements that must be done, is very bothered by small changes in routine, constantly moves, might become overly fascinated with an object and they might become overly sensitive to lights, sounds or touch and yet, undersensitive to pain.

The development of an autistic child can be a roller coaster. Typically, as the child matures, he or she does develop in a positive direction, it's just much slower than the average child's pace. They will learn new things, develop skills and interact a little bit with others. But then the adolescent years might bring regression of behavior issues.

Children will autism have low, average, and high intelligence just like the rest of us. Some are slow learners and some are fast learners. It's the autism that gets in the way, affecting one's language and social skills as well as ability to apply the knowledge that's in their head. Some children with autism are "gifted" with a certain skill such as incredible knowledge on a single subject, trivia collection, or their abilities in music, art or math.

The causes of autism are a heated subject these days. It's a very complex disease and scientists suspect there are many different causes. Right now everything is a theory, nothing is fact. Currently, the suspected causes are genetic errors (brain cells multiplied/reproduced with a defect), the environment (pollution, viruses, toxins), and the age of the father (babies born to fathers over the age of 40 have a six times higher incidence of autism as compared to babies of fathers under 30), and gender (boys are over 3 times more likely than girls to have autism).

There is current research into problems during labor and delivery, the immune system, and a part of the brain called the amygdala to see if there is any connection with autism.

There has been a recent unfounded hysteria about immunizations causing autism. Some parents believe these rumors to be true and are refusing to get their children measles-mumps-rubella MMR shots. This puts the child at risk for these other diseases and some preschools, school districts and towns are now experiencing epidemics of measles, mumps and rubella. These other diseases can cause brain damage, blindness and death.

Let's set the record straight. There has been no scientific study to find a link between getting a shot and autism. Some people point their fingers at a medication preservative called Thimerosal the use of which was discontinued back in 2001. If Thimerosal was the cause, then we should have seen a sudden drop after 2002 in the numbers of children diagnosed with autism. This hasn't happened.

Now let's talk about treatments and medication. Behavior therapies teach new skills, reduce problem behaviors, and foster proper interaction in a social setting, Educational therapies set up highly structured programs to help with learning and socialization. Medication can help reduce symptoms such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders and severe behavior problems.

There are also "alternative therapies" to help (not cure) such as the use of art, music or sensory activities to help reduce a child's oversensitivity to physical stimuli; special diets that prescribe extra vitamins and minerals and avoidance of food allergans; and there is "chelation" therapy - a way to remove mercury from the body.

Whatever you chose to do for your child, you will need a team of doctors, therapists and teachers to help your child attain their potential. Do your research on therapies and don't throw your money at anyone trying to sell you a miracle cure.

Source - Mayo Clinic

No comments:

Post a Comment