Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain in the areas of reasoning, social interaction, and communication skills. It occurs in about 1 of every 50 kids, and usually appears before the age of three. This disorder makes it difficult for the autistic individual to communicate verbally and non-verbally (e.g. gestures, facial expressions) with other people. It is difficult for them to relate to the world around them. They may also display repetitious body movement such as rocking, hand and arm flapping, unusual attachments to objects, and they may resist any changes in their routines and environments.
The areas that may be affected by autism:
- Language may develop slowly or not at all.
- Use of words without attaching the usual meaning to them.
- Communicates with gestures instead of words; short attention spans.
- Spends time alone rather than with others.
- Shows little interest in making friends.
- Less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles.
- Unusual reactions to physical sensations such as being overly sensitive to touch or under-responsive to pain.
- Sight, hearing, touch, pain, smell, taste may be affected to a lesser or greater degree.
- Lack of spontaneous or imaginative play.
- Does not imitate others actions.
- Doesn’t initiate pretend games.
- May be overactive or very passive.
- Throw frequent tantrums for no apparent reason.
- May perseverate on a single item, idea or person.
- Apparent lack of common sense.
- May show aggressive or violent behavior or injure self.
What causes Autism?
Currently, there are many research studies being conducted, all in an effort to find a cause, or causes, of autism. At this time, there hasn’t been one single cause for autism found, but autism has been linked to differences in the brain. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Topography) scans have shown abnormalities in the structure of the brain in autistic individuals. There are differences in the cerebellum, including the size and number of Purkinje cells.
In some families, there are multiple occurrences of autism. This would suggest there might be a genetic basis for the disorder, though at this time no one gene has been found that can be directly linked to autism. It is believed that about ten percent of cases of autism can be accounted for genetically. As yet, no one can tell what specifically causes autism.
What are the treatments for Autism?
One of the most effective treatments for all autistic children is a structured educational program that is geared to the child’s developmental level of functioning.
As a parent, what can you do?
The most important thing you can do is to educate yourself about autism. This way you can become an advocate for your child. It is also very important for you to meet other parents of children with autism. Parents who already have experience with raising an autistic child will almost always the most helpful to you. Other parents can tell you how to handle certain problems that may arise. Lastly, treat your child as normally as possible. The more normally a person with autism is treated the better he will do. This may be difficult at times because a child with autism takes longer to learn what is necessary to function independently is society as an adult. People with autism can and do lead happy, productive lives.
Where you can get more information on Autism.
To get information or answers to questions on autism, you can call or write Autism Society of America (ASA) at:
Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 650
Bethesda, MD 20814-3015
(301) 657-0869 Fax
Autism is still a puzzling, often misunderstood disorder, though that is slowly changing. A lot more is known about autism today than even ten years ago, and through education and research, the answers will keep coming.