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HomeHealth A-Z Autism
Autistic children will not respond as expected in many situations or they simply may not develop skills at the ages in which they should.



Definition of Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that begins in early childhood, characterized by language impairment, emotional detachment, and abnormal behavior patterns, such as repetition of specific movements and excessive focus on certain objects.

Description of Autism

The term autism dates back to 1912 as it was mentioned in the American Journal of Insanity by a psychiatrist by the name of Eugene Bleuler. The word has a Greek origin with “autos” literally meaning self. In the early 1900s and probably before that autism was often thought to be schizophrenia, and this was due to the fact that many autistic individuals have a difficult time interacting with other people, just as many individuals with schizophrenia have a difficult time relating to others.

Unfortunately it was not until 1943 that autism was recognized as a separate disease. The differentiation was finally made when Dr. Leo Kanner reported that he had 11 patients with similar behaviors, and in response to this he called the disorder early infantile autism. He coined the term based on the fact that all of the patients had little interest in other people. The symptoms that Dr. Kanner listed in his report on the topic are still regarded as the typical symptoms of an autistic individual.

Of course, Dr. Kanner was not the only individual to take notice of these individuals who were not schizophrenic, as Dr. Hans Asperger was seeing patients that were not all that different than the patients that Dr. Kanner had been seeing. His patients displayed some of the same symptoms, though they were generally more high functioning, and this form of autism would become known as Asperger syndrome. Dr. Asperger had a lot of great insight, but unfortunately his documents were not translated and made known until the late 1990s.

Today both Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are listed in the DSM-IV-TR as two of five pervasive developmental disorders, also known as PDD. All of these conditions are identified by a patient's lack of communication and social skills, as well as very common and widespread symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors of Autism

It is known that older parents, specifically men over forty, are more likely to have a child with autism. There are many different theories that have made headlines and are being seriously considered by researchers, but thus far there does not seem to be a definitive cause of autism and related conditions.

Symptoms of Autism

Many parents have autistic children and simply do not know it because these individuals simply do not look any different than anyone else. Many believe that autistic children usually have a larger head circumference than other children their age, but the significance of this common finding is not known. This is not to say that every child with a large head circumference has autism or that autism cannot occur in those that do not have a larger than average circumference.

It has to be noted that every autistic person is an individual and that skills and behaviors very widely from patient to patient, even those of the same age group. Generally there are responses to sounds, lights, or touch that are very different from the responses of a person that does not have the condition and this is all based on how much the sensory system is affected in each autistic individual. In short, autistic children will not respond as expected in many situations or they simply may not develop skills at the ages in which they should. Because autism is not a black and white condition, failure to respond as expected cannot be the deciding factor in a diagnosis.

Some of the most well noted symptoms are:

  • Child does not respond to his or her own name
  • Child doesn't focus and will stare into open areas
  • Unable to ask for what is wanted
  • Language and speech is slow to develop
  • Unable to follow simple directions
  • Is inconsolable when they don't get what is wanted
  • Child may seem to be deaf
  • Unable to point
  • Doesn't wave good-bye
  • Speech abilities come and go or regress
  • Odd movements
  • Prefers to be at home
  • Places hands on ears quite often
  • Does not make eye contact
  • Displays resistance and incorporation a good portion of the time
  • Doesn't play with toys
  • Does not smile when smiled at
  • Child does the same thing over and over again
  • Child may do things earlier than other children
  • Very independent based on age group
  • Likes to play alone
  • Spins in circles
  • Has violent fits
  • Often appears to be in his or her own world
  • Tunes out others
  • Walks on toes
  • Spends an odd amount of time stacking objects or lining things up
  • Odd attachment to toys, schedules, objects
  • Unable to pretend
  • No interest in other children
  • No concern about environmental dangers

Diagnosis of Autism

The criterion that needs to be met to have a diagnosis of autism is often disputed and different doctors may look for different things, resulting in different answers from each medical professional. The fact is, a diagnosis of autism is required to meet specific criteria. According to the DSM definition the individual must have six or more of the listed behaviors set forth by the DSM. The child must display impairment in social interaction, impairments in communication, and delays that are abnormal prior to the age of three years. Each of the areas has specific qualifying criteria and a total of six of these criteria must be met or a diagnosis of autism cannot be made.

Treatment of Autism

Treating autism is a topic of much debate. Many believe that autism is an untreatable condition, but there are things that can be done to help ensure that each autistic individual is able to interact as well as possible socially and is able to engage educationally. Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is a system of positive reinforcement and has proven to be very effective with autistic individual of every age group, though the younger a patient is the better.

Prevention of Autism

There is no clear cut cause of autism, but it has been shown that men over 40 are more likely to father children that are afflicted with autism. What is known is that autism is becoming more and more common, and is considered to be an epidemic to some. Though there is no clear cause, there are many theories of what causes autism and what may be able to prevent autism in children.

Many believe that there must be an environmental factor at play causing autism, but until it can be found what environmental factor is at play there is really no way to prevent cases that are possibly caused by one's environment. No doubt there will continue to be research on this topic.

It is also thought by many that the presence of mercury in vaccinations, which children have many of in the first years of life, is causing autism. There is a lot of research that indicates that this may be the case, though it is not responsible for all of the incidences as the condition was alive and well before modern vaccinations contained preservatives and the like. If we can find the cause of autism we will likely be able to provide preventative measures, but so far the medical community has not been able to single out a definitive cause.

External Resources

Autism Society of America

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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