Autism spectrum disorder, otherwise known as ASD, is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders. Autism is the most severe and popular form of ASD. Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome are a few of the milder cases. Autism is a severe developmental disorder of the brain. Autism begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life and can last a lifetime.
"Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have ASD than females," (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 150 children are diagnosed with autism.
Autism varies widely in symptoms and, in some cases, may go unrecognized. The most recognized symptom of autism is impaired social interaction, which may occur as early as infancy. Some early indicators are: no babbling or pointing by age 1, no response to name, loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of toys or objects and no smiling or social responsiveness. Many autistic children will have difficulty interpreting what is being said to them because they do not understand social cues, such as your tone of voice, facial expressions, or hand signals. Many children with autism have been known to rock or twirl their bodies. Some children take a more violent approach and head bang, or bite themselves. Autistic children are also known to not play with other children, and will usually stack or line up their toys. They also appear to have a higher risk for certain conditions including: mental retardation, tuberous sclerosis, epileptic seizures, Tourette syndrome, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder.
The symptoms of autism can go a lot deeper though. As far as social relationships go, facial expressions, body posture, and failure to make a friend their age are good indications that your child may have autism. Autistic children also lack sharing interests with others and they rarely feel sorrow. It is very important to keep in mind that nearly 40% of autistic children will never speak. If your child does end up speaking, he/she will have difficulty carrying on a meaningful conversation and they may often repeat themselves. When an autistic child is playing, he/she will often focus on one part of the toy and not the toy as a whole. For example, an autistic child is playing with a truck, but he will focus mainly on the wheel. Autistic children love routines. If they do not follow the same routine daily they can become very overwhelmed, and more than likely, throw a fit. As the child grows older he/she will have a hard time during puberty. Once the teen reaches adulthood, it is known that about 33% of autistic people are able to lead a semi independent lifestyle. On the lowest end of the spectrum, the person may need full-time supervision while on the higher end of the spectrum; the person can live and work on his own.
Federal laws require that a school is to provide a child with the “least restrictive” environment possible. By doing this we find that a regular class is very helpful to autistic children. Some autistic children enter a school unable to speak, but after being around their teachers and classmates that can overcome those problems. It is important to remember that autistic children do need extra help, but progress is evident in a public school system. What is most important to remember is that the earlier the child receives help, the better the chance that they will be successful in their future.
What many people do not know is that many people with autism have highly unusual sensory perception. Many are very picky about the foods they eat because the textures may feel “funny” to them. Sleep problems are also a very common occurrence with people that have autism. Higher functioning autistic children are very bright, which not many people take into consideration. Some are able to memorize lists without a problem while others take an interest in drawing or music.
"There is no medical test for autism. It is diagnosed by observing a child's behavior, communication skills, and interactions with other people," (Autism 105). The children with autistic behaviors but well-developed language skills are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Girls with autistic symptoms may have Rett syndrome, a sex-linked genetic disorder characterized by social withdrawal, regressed language skills, and hand writing. Even though there is no cure for autism, people can improve significantly with the proper treatment. No single treatment works for every patient since symptoms differ from person to person. Some possible treatments for autism include medication, a specialized diet, and therapy.
Scientists have yet to find what causes autism; however, there are many possible causes. Medical problems, heredity and vaccinations continue to be a very important factor in the research on autism. "In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder," (Autism Society of America). It also has been noted that some children have been born with a susceptibility to autism. Although this may be true, researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" causing autism. There have been a number of genes associated with this disorder and studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several regions of the brain. Other studies suggest that people with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. One factor that researchers are very interested in is environmental toxins. That theory is very debatable, but has a lot of information to support it. With our environment in the shape that it's currently in, heavy metals are more prevalent and people with autism may not be able to detoxify those metals in their body. Vaccinations are a huge debate in the possible cause of autism. The over-vaccination of infants and young children is what some groups believe is the answer. Autism also has a lot to do with genes. Identical twins are more likely to both have the disease than fraternal twins are which is due to the genetic make-up of their genes. "In a few cases, autistic behavior is caused by a disease, such as rubella in a pregnant woman, encephalitis, or phenylketonuria left untreated," (Autism 105).
Autism is not subjected to a certain type of person. Autism is found in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and can affect every age. Although this has been said, there has been a recent study in California that may state otherwise. This study identified 10 areas in the state of California that have doubled the rates of autism. The interesting fact about this study is that this neighborhood has a high concentration of Caucasian and highly educated people. The scientists in charge of this investigation looked up around 2.5 million births in California from 1996 to 2000 and found that nearly 10,000 of those children are now diagnosed with a form of autism. “We already know that people with a higher education in the United States are more likely to get a diagnosis of autism for their child. It doesn't necessarily mean that autism occurs more frequently in those families,” Irva Hertz-Picciotto says. People who live in areas where healthcare is unavailable to them have a higher rate of undiagnosed autism. Now the team wants to start looking at environmental factors and will be less focused on things such as containment. The researchers feel that they will find something widespread which will answer everyone's questions. They have been looking at dust samples from nearly 1,300 different families with autistic kids. Those dust samples may hold a common chemical that might play a role. The team is also following pregnant woman who already have an autistic child. What the woman exposes herself to may be a factor.
My mother, Laurie Artzner, works as an occupational therapist in the Perry Local School system. I recently had the opportunity to go to work with her and experience autism firsthand. I noted that some had difficulty making eye contact. The youngest child did not speak because he is non-verbal at this time. The three other boys were able to speak but their language and social skills were all at different levels. It was very hard to get across to some of them what is needed to be done because they had no clue what was being asked of them. I had the opportunity of meeting four very special boys named Sal, A.J., Jacob, and Cole. A.J. is in preschool and does not know how to talk. He is unaware of his surroundings and he does not respond to his name being called yet. He is beginning to look at a person during some play activities. A.J. is being introduced to a picture schedule which is often suggested to parents to use at home. A picture schedule helps a child communicate his wants and needs. Cole is in kindergarten and can read words, so a written schedule is provided for him. The written schedule seems to help Cole have a less stressful day at school. Cole is also very focused on calendars, dates and numbers. Jacob is in the first grade and he obsesses on Thomas the Train. When Jacob is asked a question, he will answer in simple terms, but the conversation will always end on a note about Thomas. Sal is in the fifth grade and he has come a long way. He is able to take part in a conversation which is a huge step for autistic kids. When I asked my mother why Sal could do this and other children can't she told me that it was due to “constant repetition of appropriate social interaction skills.” My mom highly believes in early intervention and putting autistic children in a proper structured social environment. I also took note of the nuby roller that my mom used on her kids. This roller looks like a roller that you may use to flatten dough, but it has nubs sticking off of it. The deep pressure gives a calming sensation to the kids, and they love it. Some would walk in the door and immediately go toward the roller because that's what they felt most comfortable with.
As I have said before, there is no possible “cure” for autism. Treatments for autism come in the form of therapies. You can put your child through daily routines that will help to stimulate their brain, or you could go for a different approach and help them open up more. Music therapy, sensory integration, and communication therapies are just some of the many forms of therapy out there. It has been noted that animal assisted therapy has been more successful and even more enjoyable for the children. Animal assisted therapy can help the child to interact more, increase their vocabulary, reduce loneliness and anxiety, increase self-esteem and more. Dolphin assisted therapy (DAT) has become a new trend, but some scientists warn that taking dolphins out of the wild may do more damage then good. DAT also lacks efficiency that it is really truly working. Dogs and horses have become the most commonly used therapy animals. Dogs are easy to interact with, and have also been introduced to hospitals around the United States.
Everyday, new statistics are being released about autism. At the beginning of this paper I have that 1 in 150 children will have autism, but that number has once again changed. It is now believed that 1 in 100 children will be diagnosed with autism which is a 50% jump in what was formerly believed.
As of now, there is no way of preventing autism. Many people with autism go on to lead a normal life and many even have a normal life expectancy. It has been shown that the best work environment for autistic people is that in which the same task is repeated over and over again. Many of the children that I have seen, such as Sal, can be taught things and educated in the school system like any “normal” child. With the support of his parents, Sal has become socially appropriate with not only his peers, but adults as well. Public school systems continue to provide programs to better help these students fit into the least restrictive environment. I feel that Sal is very successful and appropriate in the regular classroom. Sal needs the models of his peers to help guide him to learn. I feel that as of today, there is no direct cause to autism, and the growth of autism will greatly increase within the oncoming years.