Autism is one of the mental, emotional and behavioral disorders that appear in early childhood. Autistic children may have a serious lifelong disability. However, with appropriate treatment and training, some autistic children can develop certain aspects of independence in their lives. Parents should support their autistic children in developing those skills that use their strengths so they will feel good about themselves.
Signs of Autism:
When an infant or toddler: does not cuddle or respond to affection and touching; does not make eye contact; appears to be unable to communicate; displays persistent failure to develop two-way social relationships in any situation; does not show preference for parents over other adults; does not develop friendships with other children; has poor language skills, or non-existent ones; shows unusual, extreme responses to objects—either avoidance or preoccupation; finds moving objects, such as a fan, hold great fascination; may form an unusual attachments to odd objects such as a paper or rubber band; displays repetitive activities of a restrictive range; spins and repeats body movements, such as arm flapping; may repeat television commercials; may indulge in complex bedtime rituals.
The symptoms of autism range from mild to severe. Although symptoms of the disorder sometimes can be seen in early infancy, the condition may appear after months of normal development. About 7 in every 10 children and adolescents with autism also have a developmental disability or other problems with brain function or structure.
Recent studies estimate as many as 14 children out of 10,000 may have autism or a related condition. About 125,000 Americans are affected by these disorders, nearly 4000 families across the county have two or more children with autism. Three times as many boys as girls have autism.
Researchers are unsure what causes autism. Several studies suggest that autistic disorder might be caused by a combination of biological factors, including exposure to a virus before birth, a problem with the immune system, or genetics.
Parents who have suspect autism in their children should ask their family doctor or pediatrician to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can accurately diagnose the autism and the degree of severity, and determine the appropriate educational measures.
Drugs are of minor importance in the treatment of autism. Anti-depressants occasionally help a little. Standard antiviolence agents, especially antipsychotic drugs, lithium and beta blockers, maybe needed for autistic persons who strike out at themselves or others. Conventional antipsychotic drugs are often highly sedative and have serious side effects, including body movement disorders. Anticonvulsants may be useful: some researchers have suggested that unrecognized partial complex epileptic seizures, which cause changes in consciousness but not physical convulsions, are one source of autistic behavior problems.
Little is know about the long-term effects of drugs on autistic persons. They should be used for specific symptoms, not merely to keep a child docile or quiet the anxiety of a parent or doctor.
In addition to working with the autistic child, the psychiatrist can help resolve stress—for example, a feeling among siblings that they are being neglected in favor of the autistic child, or embarrassment about bringing their friends home. The psychiatrist can help parents with emotional problems that may arise as the result of living with an autistic child and help them provide the best possible nurturing and learning environment for the child.
The parents of an autistic child bear a heavy burden. They are frustrated by the child’s inability to communicate, impulsiveness, emotional unresponsiveness; self-destructive behavior, and eating and toileting problems. Some parents find it difficult to accept the diagnosis and look for other explanations. Many cope well, but all can benefit from some guidance and services, including counseling or supportive psychotherapy.
Autism Society of America www.autism-society.org