What Is Autism? Essay, Research Paper
Autism is a physical disorder of the brain that causes a lifelong disability. The many different symptoms of autism can occur by themselves or in combination with other conditions such as mental retardation, blindness, deafness,and epilepsy. Because children with Autism vary widely in their abilities and behavior, each symptom may appear differently in each child. Autism is also a spectrum disorder which means there are varying degrees to which someone can be affected from a high level of functioning, often called Asperger’s syndrome, to severe deficits where someone with Autism falls on this scale is usually related to a person’s cognitive skills and social behaviors.
Autism is a common disorder of childhood, affecting 1 in 500 children. It often remains undiagnosed until preschool age because appropriate tools for routine developmental screening for Autism have not been developed. Early identification of children with Autism and intensive, early intervention during the toddler and preschool years improves outcomes for most young children with Autism.
At this time it is believed that Autism has no single cause. Researchers theorize that several genes and/or environmental factors such as viruses and chemicals may contribute to the disorder. Several studies of people who have Autism have found brain abnormalities in several regions of the brain, including the cerebellum, hippocampus and amygdala. Neurons in these regions appear to be smaller than normal and have stunted nerve fibers. Some researchers are exploring areas that are more controversial. Among them are vaccines, celiac disease and “rogue-peptides”. Still others are looking into whether Autism is an auto-immune disease caused by an allergic reaction to something in the diet that prompts the immune system to attack the brain.
A major obstacle in Autism research has been the lack of measuring various treatments. Researchers currently use the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), The Gillian Autism Rating Scale (GARS), or The Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC). These are all used by different professionals to diagnose Autism. However, these are not to be used to measure effectiveness.
The Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) was developed by Bernard Rimland and Stephen M. Edelson of the Autism Research Institute. The (ATEC) is a one page form designed to be completed by parents and teachers. It consists of 4 subtests: I Speech & Language, Communication (14 items); II Sociability (20 items), III Sensory/Cognitive Awareness (18 items); and IV Health/Physical/Behavior(25items). Because this scale is not copyrighted it may be used and scored free of charge.
Although there is no cure for Autism there is an extensive amount of information regarding treatment. Since, no two children are alike therapy is to be designed on an individual basis to address different levels of ability.
The inability of children with Autism to develop normal social skills is probably the most noticeable characteristic of Autism, if left untreated. Autistic children do not interact with others the way most typical children do and, in those more severly affected, simply do not interact at all. They have great difficulty understanding and expressing emotions. People with Autism may appear to be very uninterested in others. They may avoid eye contact or seem extremely apathetic or unresponsive, showing no desire to initiate contact or to be held or touched. The most common responses are tantrumming, leaving the situation or drawing into themselves. This inability to relate to the world is one of the most frequently notes characteristics of Autism.
The second major syptom is speech and language problems. A frequent component of speech issues is called “echolalia”, a parrot-like repeating of what the child has heard. Echolalia can occur immmediately or be delayed. A child with Autism may immediately repeat a question or phrase, recite TV commercials or sections from a favorite book or movie. Speech may be repetitive and filled with illogical words or phrases. Delay in , or total lack of, the development of spoken language is common in children with Autism.
Relating normally to objects and events is another characteristic found in Autistic children. For example, the lining up or constant spinning of objects. These children thrive on routine and become very upset of objects or events are changed from their schedule. For example, if they usually have a bath before bedtime and no bath is given.
Children with Autism tend to have a very unusual play. These children may have no pretend play and may start very few activities on their own. They may persevertate on same colors or shapes. When given appropriate therapy to address these issues they can learn to enjoy objects in their environment.
Speech Therapy is also a common treatment among children with Autism. Since speech & language problems play a major part in the diagnoses of Autism. Speech therapist evaluate and develop an individual treatment plan addressing such areas as morphology, syntax and articulation. Children with Autism tend to have significant impairment in oral-motor, receptive and expressive language skills. It is essential that suggestions and materials be provided on a weekly basis to the family in order to facilitate carryover of therapy objectives. And, in order for progress to be more swift, it is just as important for the family to work on therapy objectives at home.
Occupational Therapy is another form of therapy for children with Autism. These children tend to have hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli. Sensory Integration is a problem in processing sensations which cause difficulties in daily life. This is a complex neurological disorder. It causes children to process sensations from their environment or from their bodies in an inaccurate way which results in “sensory seeking” or “sensory avoiding” pattern or Dyspraxia, a motor planning problem. Some behaviors that can be observed are hyperactivity, unawareness of touch or pain, unsafe behaviors an sensitivity to sounds. Occupational therapists evaluate and design an individual treatment plan. Parents are directly involved in treatment sessions so that they can learn more about their child.
It is now well recognized that early diagnoses and intervention is important to improve the prognosis for children with Autism. It is also important for families and professionals to be aware and sensitive to the needs of people with Autism. In addition, to become educated on various treatment programs and never lose sight of the long-term goal.
The quality of life of Autistic persons needs to be improved by providing increased opportunities to be integrated into society. This includes vocational training, independent living skills programs, transitional programs, social skills training and increased public education and awareness of the unique abilities of persons challenged by Autism.