Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which includes Autism and Asperger syndrome is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood, it is characterized by; unresponsiveness to social interaction and communication, gross deficits in intelligence and language development, restricted and repetitive behavior, restricted capacity for developmentally appropriate activities and interests and often bizarre responses to the environment.
People with autism have social impairments and often lack the intuition about others that others take for granted. Making and maintaining friendships often proves to be difficult for those with autism. About a third to a half of individuals with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs.
Causes and Incidence
Until recently Autism was thought to be entirely due to genetic problems or mutations, however according to a recent study by the prestigious MIND institute of California, the enormous increase in the incidence over the last few years can not just be explained by better diagnostic tests. Rather they postulate that certain environmental factors are also involved. When one considers the massive increase in the various poisons mankind releases into the atmosphere and the soil and the fact that young children do not have a properly developed immune system, that should not be surprising.
Environmental factors that have been claimed to contribute to or exacerbate autism, or may be important in future research, include certain foods, infectious disease, heavy metals, solvents, diesel exhaust, PCBs, phthalates and phenols used in plastic products, pesticides, brominated flame retardants, alcohol, smoking, illicit drugs, vaccines and prenatal stress.
Autism has also been associated with maternal rubella, untreated phenylketonuria, lack of oxygen at birth, tuberous sclerosis and encephalitis. Some studies have established a link with abnormalities in neurotransmitters, including increased dopamine and increased serotonin.
Autism is still fairly rare with 4 to 5 children per 10,000 births being affected but the huge and continuing rise in the incidence of Autism is alarming.
Signs and Symptoms
A major characteristic of children with Autism is unresponsiveness to people. Infants with this disorder will not cuddle, they avoid eye contact, do not show facial expressions and are indifferent to affection and physical contact. They may become rigid or flaccid when held and cry when touched.
As they grow older their smiling response is absent or delayed, they do not form an attachment to their caregivers and do not show anxiety in the presence of strangers. The end result of these problems is that an emotional bond between the children and their parents may fail to develop.
Severe language impairment and lack of imagination, meaningless repetition of words and actions, screaming fits, rhythmic rocking, arm flapping, disturbed sleeping and eating patterns and crying without tears may also be prevalent. Most autistic children have an IQ of 35 to 49.
As yet there is no known cure for autism, but early intervention, the establishment of strict routines, specialised education and structured support can help develop skills, minimise behaviour problems and enable each child, whatever their level of disability, to achieve as great a degree of independence as possible.
People with autism often insist on following routines or rituals, and can be distressed over changes to small details of the environment, such as wanting to keep to the same route to the shops or eat dinner from the same plate. It is thought that they feel tremendous anxiety at the unpredictability of daily life, and these rituals and routines remove some of the uncertainty for them about what will happen next.
A child with ASD may respond atypically to medications, the medications can have adverse effects, and no known medication relieves the core symptoms of social and communication impairments. Investigation and treatment of Biological, Nutritional and Metabolic factors have led to improvement of symptoms or complete resolution of symptoms in a multitude of Children with Autism worldwide. Some recent work with acupressure patches does however show promise.
The prognosis for Autism is poor with most sufferers requiring a structured environment throughout life, but all kids with autism have brighter futures when they have the support and understanding of doctors, teachers, caregivers, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends.