What is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized with the following social impairments: cognitive impairments, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors. There are different forms of Autism; ranging from mild to very severe. This disorder does not discriminate against ethnic groups; affecting all socioeconomic and age groups.
Autism is the fastest growing neurodevelopmental disorder in the United States; costing a family more than 60,000 every year. According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, Autism affects 1 in every 68 children; 1 in 42 males. As you can see from these figures males are approximately 5 times more like to develop Autism than females, and unfortunately there is no cure for this devastating neurological developmental disorder. This developmental disorder has no respect for any culture
What's Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorder covers a broad range of disabilities associated with Autism. Disabilities such as diagnoses of autism, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), childhood disintegrative disorder, and Rett syndrome.
Children with Autism are usually normal before the ages of 1 and 2. Then all of a sudden these children regress; losing language and social skills that they previously have learned. When this happens it is called the regressive type of Autism.
Beginning signs of Autism
- No eye contact, not even when they are being fed.
- No smile when smiled at.
- No response to their name or to the sound of a familiar voice.
- Will not follow objects visually.
- Will not point or wave goodbye or use other gestures to communicate.
- Will not follow the gesture when you point things out.
- Won’t make noises to get your attention.
- No response to cuddling; will not initiate cuddling
- Without facial expressions.
- Will not reach out to be picked up.
- Shows no interest in any type of enjoyment.
General signs of Autism
- No expression of warmth or smiles of joyful expression by 6 months old or older
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
- No babbling by 1 year old
- Will not wave goodbye by the time they are 1 year old
- No formed words by the time they are 18 months old
- Unable to make 2 word sentences without repeating words over and over again by the time they are 2 years old.
- Loss of speech, babbling and/or social skills at any age
What theories support Autism?
Years ago the development of Autism was blamed on "refrigerator mothers". The theory was thought to be believed that unfeeling moms induced psychological wounds in their children.
Another theory that was discredited was the childhood vaccination, (MMR). This booster vaccination is targeted against 3 childhood communicable diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. It is preserved in a mercury-based solution and was once thought to be the culprit behind Autism. However, in 2004 the Institute of Medicine conducted a comprehensive safety review and found that there was no correlation between these mercury preserved vaccinations and Autism. In fact, more than 2 dozen other medical studies also failed to find a link to vaccinations and Autism. However, even though medical researchers have discredited this theory, many people, including health professionals still believe that vaccinations are the cause.
Genes are another theory. In fact parents with one Autistic child have a higher risk of having a second child with Autism. In 2012, Molecular Psychiatry published a research study that showed that half of siblings of Autistic children will have half the risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Other theories behind Autism include older dads, pour prenatal nutrition, air pollution (mothers who lived closer to a freeway may have a higher incidence of the development of Autism in their unborn child), and a high-fructose diet during pregnancy could be a contributing factor to the development of Autism. A very recent theory of autism that suggests that the brains of Autistic children are structurally normal but for some reason they are dysregulated. This new theory suggests that autism is a developmental disorder caused by impaired regulation of a bundle of neurons in the brain that processes sensory signals from all areas of the body. And because of this dysregulation it is highly possible the symptoms of Autism might be reversible.
Treatment for Autism
There is no cure for Autism but we must not lose faith because medical science is diligently seeking a cure. In the meantime treatment options are available. These children are severely socially impaired with great cognitive and communication difficulties. Therefore, the main focus of treatment is comprehensive behavioral therapy. And medical research has proven that the earlier a behavior treatment plan is put into action for an Autistic child the better the outcome will be. For example, these children have improved learning, communication and social skills.
Examples of treatment for Autism
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Behavior modification
Early Denver Model: An early developmental skills' curriculum
Floortime: Assess strength and weaknesses
Pivotal Response Therapy: Play-based, initiated by the child Verbal Behavior Therapy: Operant conditioning
A family who has a child with Autism can be devastated with the emotional, physical and financial stress. Various support groups are available online and in person. In Atlanta, the Autism Society of America, Georgia Chapter offers support groups, education, resources, as well as safety and risk management tips for families who have an Autistic child.
Autism Awareness Month
Yes there are many theories behind Autism but medical researchers have found no theory directly related to Autism and if there was a direct correlation to any of the above theories then this devastating neurodevelopmental disorder could probably be eliminated.
April is Autism Awareness Month. In Atlanta, the Marcus Autism Center has planned activities to celebrate with parents who have an Autistic child; as well enlighten all who may be concerned about this disorder. If you or someone you know has concerns about a child's development, I strongly encourage you not to hesitate to ask a pediatrician or family practitioner for an immediate evaluation. Remember, the earlier the treatment the more successful the outcome!