Martha Pelaez, EDP 3004
Do you know someone that does not communicate well by a certain age, where it is normal for others to so? That might be one of the telltale signs of autism. Autism is an illness that affects information processing in the human brain by altering how nerve cells connect and organize. While not new to the United States or the world in general, autism does affect a lot of people on many different levels.
The causes of autism have mystified researchers throughout history. Research is only now starting to deliver some answers. We now know there is no one cause of autism, just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with the condition. While a small number of these genes can trigger the condition on their own, most cases of autism appear to be caused by a combination of risk genes and certain environmental factors influencing early brain development.
How one goes about distinguishing the early signs and symptoms of autism is equally challenging. Developing infants are typically sociable by nature. They will gaze at faces and turn toward voices, grasp at fingers and even smile by two to three months old. In contrast, most children who develop autism have difficulty engaging in the simple give-and-take of everyday human interaction. By 8 to 10 months of age, many infants who go on to develop autism are already showing early symptoms, including failing to respond to their names, reduced interest in people and delayed babbling. By the time they become toddlers, many children with autism have difficulty playing social games. They won’t imitate the actions of others and will prefer to play alone instead. They may fail to seek comfort or respond to their parents’ displays of anger or affection. Many people with autism have difficulty seeing things from another person’s perspective. Most five-year-olds already understand that other people have thoughts, feelings and goals different than their own. A person with autism may lack such understanding. This, in turn, can interfere with their ability to predict or understand another person’s actions.
Unusual repetitive behaviors and/or a tendency to engage in a restricted range of activities are other core symptoms of autism. Common repetitive behaviors include hand flapping, rocking, jumping and twirling, arranging and rearranging objects and repeating sounds, words, or phrases. Sometimes, the repetitive behavior is self-stimulating, such as in the case of wiggling fingers in front of their own eyes. This tendency to engage in a restricted range of activities can be seen in the way that many autistic children play with toys. Some will spend hours lining up toys in a specific way instead of using them for pretend play. Similarly, some autistic adults will be preoccupied with having household items or other objects arranged in a fixed place or order. It can prove extremely upsetting if someone or something disrupts that order. This might explain why many children and adults with autism both need and demand extreme consistency in their environment and daily routine. Slight changes can be extremely stressful and lead to outbursts.
The question of how to treat autism is perhaps the most important. Early and intensive behavioral intervention will usually involve the child’s entire family working closely with a team of health professionals. In some early intervention programs, therapists will come into the home to deliver services. This can include hands-on parent training, with the parent taking the lead under the supervision of the therapist. Other programs will deliver therapy in a specialized center, classroom or even preschool. Objective scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of two particular methods of comprehensive behavioral early intervention. They are the Lovaas Model, based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and the Early Start Denver model. Researchers, health professionals, parents and persons with autism all have strong opinions about what direction future research should take. Everyone would obviously like to find a cure for autism. However, many feel that finding a cure is unlikely. Instead, they believe already-scarce resources should be devoted to helping people with autism find better ways to live with the condition. No matter what the future of autism research may hold, the fact remains that many techniques and treatments now exist to help relieve the pain and suffering associated with it. These treatments offer many options for improving the quality of life of those both directly and indirectly affected by autism.
Weintraub, A. G. (2013). A History of Autism. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://www. webmd. com/brain/autism/history-of-autism? page= 3#2