WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism or ASD is a spectrum disorder characterized by a range of challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism may, but not always, occur with intellectual or developmental delays. Some individuals with autism have distinct skills in music, mathematics, or in using spatial concepts (for ex. working jigsaw puzzles), but may manifest severe defects in other areas.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM?
Symptoms of autism may include slow development or lack of physical, social, and learning skills. Individuals may exhibit immature rhythms of speech, limited understanding of ideas, and use of words without attaching the usual meaning to them. And individual with autism may experience abnormal responses to sensations, such as sight, hearing, touch, pain, balance, smell, and/or taste. Any one or a combination of these responses may be affected, as may be the way an individual holds his/her body. The individual may also exhibit abnormal ways of relating to people, objects, and events.
WHAT CAUSES AUTISM?
There appear to be several possible causes, either alone or in combination with others. Among these are untreated phenylketonuria, rubella, celiac disease, and chemical exposure in pregnancy. Biochemical imbalance and genetic predisposition have also emerged as possible causes. No known factors in the psychological environment of a child have been shown to cause autism.
HOW IS AUTISM DIAGNOSED?
Because there are no medical tests for autism at present, the diagnosis must be based on observations of the child’s behavior. Sometimes the process of elimination is the only guide. For older children, whose early symptoms have changed, it may be necessary to interview the parents about the child’s early years in order to avoid misdiagnosis. The most common assessment tool is the Autism Diagnostic observation Schedule.
IS AUTISM ASSOCIATED WITH OTHER DISORDERS?
Autism occurs either by itself or in association with other disorders which affect brain function. Prenatal viral infections, some metabolic disturbances, epilepsy, or intellectual deficits may result in, or exist in conjunction with autism.
HOW SEVERE CAN AUTISM BE?
In milder forms, autism most resembles a learning disability such as childhood aphasia. Usually, however, people with autism are substantially impacted. With approximately 3% of those affected, severe autism may cause extreme forms of self-injurious, repetitive, highly unusual, and aggressive behavior. The behavior may persist and be very difficult to change, posing a tremendous challenge to those who must manage, treat and teach individuals with autism. People with autism live normal life spans. Since certain symptoms may change or even disappear over time, persons with autism should be re-evaluated periodically and their training adjusted to meet their changing needs.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS FOR AUTISM?
Various methods of treatment have been tried but no single treatment is effective in all cases. Although there is no know cure, appropriate programming, based on individual functioning level and need, is of prime importance in promoting programs of success.Some individuals benefit from controlled diet and/or medication. Examples are those whose autism is exacerbated by an excess of uric acid in the blood, or whose autism is co-occurring with a seizure disorder.
WHAT RESEARCH IS BEING DONE?
The field of autism research is quite broad. There are countless investigations into the detection, prevention, and treatment of autism. Because the causes of autism are not clearly understood, researchers have been studying the genetic components playing a role in autism along with the impact of undetermined environmental factors.There are also many studies investigating early brain development and functioning, social interactions in infants, helping people with autism find better ways to live with the condition, the best education techniques to use, successful ways to confront behavioral issues, and potential new medication treatments to prevent or alleviate its effects.