Autism refers to the disorder associated with neutral development. It is usually characterized by impaired communication and social interaction, as well as, repetitive and restricted behavior. It appears in the first three years of life of a child. Autism is a disorder that messes with the processing of information in the brain. This it does by altering the way nerve cells, as well as, their synapses connect and organize with each other. The exact causes of the disorder are still not known. It is thought that there might be a combination of various factors that lead to autism. However, genetic factors seem to have an importance, for example, there is a high chance of autism amongst identical twins than in fraternal ones. Relatives of children with autism always seem to have chromosomal abnormalities, language abnormalities, in addition to other neurological problems (Manzi & Loizzo, 2008).
There are also other suspected causes of the disorder, for example, mercury poisoning, vaccine sensitivity, or digestive tract changes. However, they have not been proven by scientific researches. There has been an increase in autism amongst children in the United States. Moreover, there are also other pervasive developmental disorders that have characteristics that resemble to those of autism. They include aperger syndrome, rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder. More often than not, children would start suspecting some abnormalities in their children by the time they are eighteen months old. These children usually have problems in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, and pretend play. There are some children who would appear to be normal after some time, but then change all over sudden and lose the entire social and language skills they had already gained. This is what is referred to as regressive autism.
People with autism will usually display unusual attachments to objects or repeat certain body movements. They are unusually distressful when they experience a change in routine, in addition to being over-sensitive in touch, taste, sight or hearing. All these symptoms vary from moderate to severe. When communicating, they may experience problems in the sense that they may use nonsense rhyming, repeat memorized phrases, communicate with gestures more than words, develop language slowly, or they may not maintain a social conversation successfully. On the other hand, they cannot make friends or play games that are interactive. They are usually withdrawn and show lack of empathy. Moreover, they may avoid any eye contact.
It is important that all children go for a routine developmental checkup, usually done by a pediatrician. It can also include further testing if the parents or doctor are concerned. This should be so if a child fails to babble by the time they are twelve months old, gesture, say single words by sixteen months, or lose social or language skills at any age. The tests perform could include a hearing evaluation, screening test, blood lead test, the Autism Screening Questionnaire, or screening test for autism. The actual diagnosis should be done by a health care professional with experience in the field of diagnosing and treating autism. This is especially so since there is a lack of a biological test for autism. The diagnosis is usually based on specific criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (Dover, 2007).
Autism evaluation usually includes a complete examination of the nervous and physical system. Children suspected to have autism can have genetic testing or metabolic testing. Due to the fact that autism has many symptoms, the evaluation usually covers language, communication and motor skills, academic progress at school or thinking capabilities. After the diagnosis, those found to be having autism can have an early, intensive and appropriate treatment program. This will eventually improve the outlook for the autistic children. Most of the programs build have a highly structured schedule.
Its treatment can be a success when it is directed towards the particular needs of a child. The program for a specific child can be designed by an experienced specialist or team. There are a variety of therapies present, for example, speech-language therapy, physical therapy, medications, occupational therapy, vision therapy, sensory integration, and applied behavior analysis. For best results, a combination of these techniques can be applied. Educational interventions could also have some positive effects. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), is for younger children, who have an autism spectrum disorder. The program puts into use a one-on-one teaching approach. The approach will then reinforce other skills that can be put into practice. The main goal here is to get the child close to having normal developmental functioning.
These ABA programs can be done at home, but with supervision from a behavioral psychologist. They are expensive and hence have not been adopted at school in an extensive way. In autism, medicines are usually used in the treatment of emotional or behavioral problems experience by individuals with autism. These behaviors include aggression, hyperactivity, mood swings, impulsiveness, or attention problems. By now, it is only risperidone that has been approved for the treatment of children ages between the age of five and sixteen. It is used for the treatment of irritability and aggression. There are other medicines, for example, the SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and stimulants like methylphenidate. However, there is no particular medicine that can possibly treat autism.
Some individuals with autism appear to respond to a diet that is free from glutten or casein. Gluten is present in foods like barley, wheat, and rye. On the other hand, casein is found in cheese, milk, as well as, other dairy products. However, there are no hundred percent positive results for a change in diet. Autism is a disorder that has remained to be a challenge among children and their families. However, some tremendous steps have been made from generations ago, when autistic children were put in institutions. With the correct therapy, many of the symptoms associated with autism can be improved. It is important to note that, most individuals with autism can live with their families. The outcome has always depended on the severity of the autistic behavior, in addition to, the therapy they receive (Manzi & Loizzo, 2008).
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In more complex situations, autism is associated with other disorders affecting the brain, for example, tuberous sclerosis, mental retardation, and fragile X syndrome. Some individuals could even develop seizures. Social deficits have now distinguished autism and the related autism spectrum disorders (ASD) form the rest of developmental disorders. Autistic children from three years to five have a lesser chance of exhibiting social understanding. There are others who spontaneously, communicate nonverbally, imitate and respond to emotions.
However, it is important to note that they form attachments to their primary caregivers. It is common for children with autism to display less attachment security than those who are not autistic. The older children or adults with ASD usually perform worse on tests concerning emotion and face recognition. On the other hand, children experiencing autism (high-functioning) usually suffer from loneliness that is more frequent and intense when compared to non-autistic children. It is important to note that individuals with autism have symptoms, which are independent of the diagnosis, however, it affect the individual or other family members.
It is estimated that about ten percent of individuals experiencing ASD usually display unusual abilities. They show superior skills in areas dealing with attention and perception. About seventy percent autistic individuals exhibit poor motor signs, for example, poor motor planning, poor muscle tone, and toe walking. Three-quarters of children with ASD exhibit unusual eating behavior. The parents or family of children with ASD usually experience high levels of stress (Manzi & Loizzo, 2008).
The research to come up with what causes autism has been hampered by the fact that, it is not easy to biologically identify any meaningful subpopulation. However, current advances in technologies like diffusion tensor imaging and fMRI can of great help in identifying biologically relevant observable traits. These traits can then be viewed on brain scans, which will go a long way in helping further neurogenetic studies dealing with autism. As mentioned earlier, autism is a disorder that has a strong genetic basis. There are several evidences showing that synaptic dysfunction can be the cause autism. Some rare mutations could occur and then lead to autism. This is by the disruption of some synaptic pathways, like those in cell adhesion. Moreover, there are claims that environmental factors can contribute to autism.
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The mechanism related to autism can be grouped into two. First is the pathophysiology of brain structures, in addition to the processes linked with autism. Second is the neuropsychological linkage between behavior and brain structure. These behaviors look to be having several pathophysiologies. Different from other brain disorders, autism has no clear unifying mechanism. It is a disorder that appears to be as a result of developmental factors, which may affect functional brain systems, as well as, disturb the timing of brain development. After their after birth, the brains of children with autism tend to grow at a faster rate than normal. On matters dealing with genetics, there are relations between autism and schizophrenia. Research has shown that autism and schizophrenia are common in combination.
There are two main categories of cognitive theories, which have been proposed concerning any link between behavior and autistic brains. The first places emphasis on deficits found in social cognition. The empathizing–systemizing theory states that individuals with autism are able to systemize, this means that they can develop internal rules dealing with operation that are responsible for events inside the brain. The extreme male brain theory states that autism is, in the essence, an extreme case of the male brain. This is defined psychometrically as people who choose to empathize that systemize. However, this extension is controversial, because there are numerous studies that contradict the idea that boys and girls do respond differently to objects, as well as people (Manzi & Loizzo, 2008).
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These theories related to the theory of mind approach, which stipulates that autistic behavior stems from the inability to assign mental states to themselves and others. The hypothesis in the theory of mind is supported by the atypical responses of autistic children to the Sally–Anne test. However, many studies have come up with no evidence of an inability in the ability of autistic individuals to understand the intentions or goals of other people. Instead, findings suggest that impairments are associated with the understanding of social emotions that are more complex.
On the other hand, the second category places emphasis on general or nonsocial processing. For example, Executive dysfunction states that autistic behavior is as a result of deficits in forms of executive function such as working memory, and planning. The theory has strength in predicting stereotyped behavior as well as narrow interests. It has its weaknesses in that the measurement of executive function is hard to take. Secondly, there are no traces of executive function deficits in young children with autism. Weak central coherence theory states that the central disturbance in autism is in the limited ability to see the big picture. The theory has strength in the prediction of special talents, as well as peaks in performance in individuals with autism. However, neither of the categories is satisfactory on its own. A combined theory, which can be based on multiple deficits, can be of more use.
In Japan and the United States, they screen all children for ASD who are between eighteen and twenty four months. This is usually done using formal screening tests that are specific to autism. However, in the United Kingdom, children whose doctors or families identify any possible sign of autism are usually screened. From all these, it is not identifiable which of the approaches is more effective. Some of the screening tools that can be used include the M-CHAT in toddlers, or the First Year Inventory. However, it may be advisable to precede these tests with the use of a broadband screener, which does not distinguish ASD from the rest of the developmental disorders. It is important to note that, screening tools that have been designed for one culture for behaviors such as eye contact may not be appropriate for a another different culture. Moreover, despite the fact that genetic screening for autism is still impractical, it can be considered in cases such as children with dysmorphic features and neurological symptoms (Manzi & Loizzo, 2008).
Due to the fact that there is no known cause of autism, its diagnosis is based on behavior, and not the mechanism or cause. Autism is defined to exhibit, in the least, six symptoms. The symptoms include at least from incapability in social interaction, one of impairment in communication abilities, and at least one of repetitive or restricted behavior. Despite the fact that symptoms associated with autism and ASD do begin at an early stage in a child’s life, they can be missed sometimes. However, later, the adults can seek diagnoses that will help them, friends and family understand. Their employers can also make adjustments regarding their situations.
There is evidence that boys have a higher risk for ASD than girls do (Hughes, 2008). The risk is amplified with older fathers than it is with older mothers. This may be so because of an increase in mutation burden associated with older sperm. However, most of the professionals believe that ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic background have no effect on the occurrence of autism.
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While there may be no direct treatment of autism, treatment should be aimed at lessening any associated deficits or distress in the family. It should also focus on increasing functional independence and the quality of life. It is also important to note that there is no single treatment that can said to be the best. It is usually tailored so as to fit the child's special needs. The main sources for treatment are the families of the autistic child, in addition to the educational system. An intensive and sustained special education programs, as well as behavior therapy, at an early stage can help these children attain social, self-care, and job skills. The remedies can also improve the severity in functioning and decrease symptom, in addition to maladaptive behaviors.