What is Autism? Autism is a developmental disorder of the brain. People with autism have problems communicating or interacting socially with society. They also may have unusual patterns of behavior, interests and activities. There are five kinds of autism, which is why doctors use the term “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD). The three main types of autism include: Classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Nonspecific pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS) — A group of children who don’t quite fit the criteria for the other types. There are also two rare autism disorders: Rett syndrome –a neurodevelopment disorder that affects mostly girls; it includes problems with movement and speech, along with autistic features. Childhood disintegrative disorder — a severe type in which the child loses more physical, language and social skills than in classic autism.
Autism used to be the term used for anyone with that particular condition. Today, there are several different sub categories for different levels of disability or function. No two children diagnosed will be the same, but there will be many things that they do have in common. With some high functioning autistics most people may not even be aware that they have autism, while others need assistance in almost any part of life, and they are obviously living a very different life than other children. More is being discovered about each of these different autism types as time goes on (Evans).
Asperger’s Disorder is a type of autism that you hear more and more about. These children are often misdiagnosed at first, and are thought to have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or perhaps Attention Deficit Disorder. These children are very unskilled with social interactions and have problems with communicating. They have repetitive motions, and are fixated on patterns of all types. They can have above average language skills, though they don’t use them well in social situations. They are often clumsy, as motor skills are under developed. Those with Asperger’s are thought to have a talent that they focus on almost exclusively, and are considered to be highly intelligent. Recent findings indicate that Albert Einstein may have had this condition (Evans).
Kanner’s Syndrome is a particular type of autism that was named after Dr. Kanner. He described and studied it in the 1930s and into the 1940s. This is the well-known type of this condition that is very common. Those with Kanner’s have very limited emotional connection with anyone, and they are very into their own little world. They want everything to be the same all of the time, and this includes routine (sometimes down to the exact minute) clothing, food, and television shows or movies. They can be deeply affected by noises, bright lights and smells. They are generally considered to be low functioning, but how well their mind works is largely unknown because of extremely poor social and communication skills (Evans).
Pervasive Developmental Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is used to describe children who have most of the same symptoms as classic autism. They will need the same interventions and help that autistic children require. The differences between PDD-NOS and autism are minor and usually only obvious to researchers and doctors (Evans).
Rett’s Syndrome is a rare and relatively little-known type of autism, and it seems to only happen in girls. This branch of autism was first described by Dr. Rett. These patients often have problems with muscle atrophy, and tend to do repetitive hand motions. They are almost always mentally retarded to some degree. These girls are very low functioning and will need care for most of their lives. This particular type of autism has been diagnosed since the sixties, but in the late 1990s a gene that might cause this condition was found (Evans).
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is also rare and something that strikes children who appear to have normal development from birth. Usually between two and four years of age this changes. These children begin to regress, and often do not potty train. They will lose the will and the ability to interact with other children, and will lose an interest in playing. They will also have problem with the motor skills that were something they at one time had mastered. They will stop talking, or their communication skills will regress to some degree (Evans).
Signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are typically first seen in toddlers before the age of three, but only half of the children with it are diagnosed before kindergarten. Rett syndrome is caused by a mutation on a gene, while the cause of the other types of autism remain unknown. Some studies suggest that other forms of autism may be inherited (genetic), while other evidence points to infection or the effects of an environmental toxin (poison). Some doctors believe autism may result from a brain injury or brain abnormality that occurred during development in the womb or in early infancy. Others have reported evidence that the disorder is a result of abnormal levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which send messages between cells in the brain and nerves. ASD affects about 2 to 6 out of 1,000 children, from all racial, ethnic and social backgrounds. It is three to four times more common in boys than in girls, with Rett syndrome being the exception (Wiki).
Some of the diagnostic tests performed to see whether a child is autistic or not are:
Behavioral assessments. Various guidelines and questionnaires are used to help a doctor determine the specific type of developmental delay a child has. These include:
Medical history. During the medical history interview, a doctor asks general questions about a child’s development, such as whether a child shows parents things by pointing to objects. Young children with autism often point to items they want, but do not point to show parents an item and then check to see if parents are looking at the item being pointed out.
Diagnostic guidelines for autism. The American Association of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has established guidelines for diagnosing autism.2 The criteria are designed so a doctor can assess a child’s behavior relating to core symptoms of autism. The criteria are designed for children age 3 and older.
Other behavioral questionnaires. Additional diagnostic tests focus on children younger than age 3.
Clinical observations. A doctor may want to observe the developmentally delayed child in different situations. The parents may be asked to interpret whether certain behaviors are usual for the child in those circumstances.
Developmental and intelligence tests. The AACAP also recommends that tests be given to evaluate whether a child’s developmental delays affect his or her ability to think and make decisions (WebMD).
Some parents believe that the MMR vaccine (an immunization shot against measles, mumps, and rubella) children receive may cause autism. This theory was based on two facts. First, the incidence of autism has increased steadily since around the same time the MMR vaccine was introduced. Second, children with the regressive form of autism (a type of autism that develops after a period of normal development) tend to start to show symptoms around the time the MMR vaccine is given. Several major studies have found no connection between the vaccine and autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that there is no proven link between autism and the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine. Some doctors believe the increased incidence in autism is due to newer definitions of autism. The term “autism” now includes a wider spectrum of children. For example, a child who is diagnosed with high-functioning autism today may have been thought to simply be odd or strange 30 years ago (Oasis).
An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will greatly improve the outlook for most young children with autism. Most programs will build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities. Visual aids are often helpful. Treatment is most successful when it is geared toward the child’s particular needs. An experienced specialist or team should design the program for the individual child. A variety of therapies are available, including: applied behavior analysis (ABA), medications, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language therapy. Sensory integration and vision therapy are also common, but there is little research supporting their effectiveness. The best treatment plan may use a combination of techniques (Oasis).
Autism remains a challenging condition for children and their families, but the outlook today is much better than it